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STATE COLLEGE — Students in Jack Lyke’s biology class at State College Area High School enjoy an applied learning / hands-on Aquaponics learning experience in the classroom - (Come on Connecticut STEM Aquaponics - Just Do It! )

http://www.centredaily.com/2014/11/29/4483937/state-high-class-designs-aquaponics.html?sp=/99/116/
State High class designs aquaponics system to harvest fish, produce, hands-on experience

sannarelli@centredaily.comNovember 29, 2014 Updated 14 hours ago

Read more here: http://www.centredaily.com/2014/11/29/4483937/state-high-class-designs-aquaponics.html?sp=/99/116/#storylink=cpy

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Lyke has incorporated aquaponics — a combination of aquatic culture and hydroponics — into his classroom’s greenhouse with the use of nine tilapia and dozens of plants like tomatoes, lettuce and parsley, which will be consumed at an end of the school year celebration.
Fish in an aquaponics system are fed and create waste to fertilize plants growing at the top of the fish tank. The plants, in turn, purify the water for the fish.
The primary purpose of the greenhouse’s 110-gallon aquaponics system, however, is to educate students throughout the various biology class units.
“Our next unit is on cell membranes, and we’ll talk about fish cell membranes,” Lyke said. “Whatever we talk about in class we can point back to what’s going on in our aquaponics system.”
Biology teacher Sue Braun has also incorporated Lyke’s project into her classroom, and the two teachers are having their classes build aquaponics systems on a smaller scale.
“I thought this class might be boring,” freshman Isabelle Caldwell said. “I thought it would be a lot of book work and diagrams and tests, but I never realized we’d be doing anything as interesting as this.”
Lyke introduced the aquaponics system he built to students during the first week of school. He then told them they’d have the rest of the school year to research, design, build and sustain their own aquaponics systems.
It’s not easy for classes of over 20 students to work together on one project.
“There is debate sometimes over who’s right and who’s wrong and who needs to do more work, and we don’t always talk out loud to each other, so we talk a lot on the Google doc, which causes some miscommunication where someone might accidentally delete something from our plans,” sophomore Elena Gomez said.
“I think it’s especially difficult, because there are a lot of us, but that’s part of this whole process,” sophomore Lauryn Gierchak said. “We have had to learn how to communicate with each other.”
Each class submitted a rough proposal for its aquaponics system Tuesday.
Sophomores Joe McCracken, Gavin Schaefer-Hood and Gabe Avillion tested Lyke’s first period tank for leaks Monday. They want to build a 20-gallon raft aquaponics system with goldfish and green-leaf plants. The system will be simplified by using Styrofoam and mesh to rest plant roots in at the top of the tank.
Each class’ tank is expected to be set up by February.
“One thing we’ve discovered is there’s no right or wrong way or system to do this,” Avillion said. “There are a lot of different ways to grow these plants and some may be more successful than others, but we’re not bound to one system. If we see great growth with one system, we’ll stick with it. If we think we can do better with something else, we can do that. It’s all an experiment, and we’re enjoying it.”
Lyke began thinking about incorporating aquaponics in the classroom about a year ago when he overheard another science teacher talking about growing lettuce with it.
“I did a quick Internet search on it and got 10,000 hits on aquaponics,” Lyke said. “I continued my research and realized everything in an aquaponics ecosystem is everything I teach and that it could be modeled within an aquaponics ecosystem.”
He also said he couldn’t find anyone else using aquaponics in the classroom.
“It’s pretty cool being one of the only high schools to have an opportunity like this,” Schaefer-Hood said. “I guess we’re kind of the guinea pigs for this project.”
Schaefer-Hood broke off a small piece of lettuce on Lyke’s aquaponics system.
“It’s not bad,” Schaefer-Hood said.
Shawn Annarelli can be reached at 235-3928. Follow him on Twitter @Shawn_Annarelli.




Read more here: http://www.centredaily.com/2014/11/29/4483937/state-high-class-designs-aquaponics.html?sp=/99/116/#storylink=cpy

Can Chicago Ever Dig Itself Out of Its Pension Hole? - Better, Faster, Cheaper

Better, Faster, Cheaper



Can Chicago Ever Dig Itself Out of Its Pension Hole?

Incoming Chicago Treasurer Kurt Summers is pledging to improve investment returns for the city's pension funds and reduce investment-management fees. Both are worthy goals, but he's the first to admit that they "aren't going to change the kinds of holes we have."
As treasurer, Summers will sit on the boards of all four Chicago pension funds, which are a mess. Combined, they have less than 33 percent of the funds needed to meet pension obligations. Two of them -- the police and fire systems -- are less than 30 percent funded. READ MORE


Xerox Scientists Develop Silver Ink to Print Plastic Circuits

Xerox Scientists Develop Silver Ink to Print Plastic Circuits

Xerox Scientists Develop Silver Ink to Print Plastic Circuits

Xerox Scientists Develop Silver Ink to Print Plastic Circuits
Xerox Scientists Develop "Silver Bullet" Needed to Replace Silicon Circuits with Low-Cost, Durable Plastic Xerox to jump-start industry commercialization by providing printed electronics materials that easily print on plastics, film and textiles.

With the development of a new silver ink, Xerox scientists have paved the way for commercialization and low-cost manufacturing of printable electronics. Printable electronics offers manufacturers a very low-cost way to add "intelligence" or computing power to a wide range of surfaces such as plastic or fabric. This development will aid the commercialization of new applications such as "smart" pill boxes that track how much medication a patient has taken or display screens that roll up to fit into a briefcase. 

"For years, there's been a global race to find a low-cost way to manufacture plastic circuits," said Paul Smith, laboratory manager, Xerox Research Centre of Canada. "We've found the silver bullet that could make things like electronic clothing and inexpensive games a reality today. This breakthrough means the industry now has the capability to print electronics on a wider range of materials and at a lower cost." 

Until now, bringing low-cost electronics to the masses has been hindered by the logistics and costs associated with silicon chip manufacturing; the breakthrough low-temperature silver ink overcomes the cost hurdle, printing reliably on a wide range of surfaces such as plastic or fabric. As part of its commercialization initiatives, Xerox plans to aggressively seek interested manufacturers and developers by providing sample materials to allow them to test and evaluate potential applications. 

Integrated circuits are made up of three components - a semiconductor, a conductor and a dielectric element - and currently are manufactured in costly silicon chip fabricating factories. By creating a breakthrough silver ink to print the conductor, Xerox has developed all three of the materials necessary for printing plastic circuits. 

Using Xerox's new technology, circuits can be printed just like a continuous feed document without the extensive clean room facilities required in current chip manufacturing. In addition, scientists have improved their previously developed semiconductor ink, increasing its reliability by formulating the ink so that the molecules precisely align themselves in the best configuration to conduct electricity. 

The printed electronics materials, developed at the Xerox Research Centre of Canada, enable product manufacturers to put electronic circuits on plastics, film, and textiles. Printable circuits could be used in a broad range of products, including low-cost radio frequency identification tags, light and flexible e-readers and signage, sensors, solar cells and novelty applications including wearable electronics. 

"We will be able to print circuits in almost any size from smaller custom-sized circuits to larger formats such as wider rolls of plastic sheets -unheard of in today's silicon-wafer industry," said Hadi Mahabadi, vice president and center manager of Xerox Research Centre Canada. "We are taking this technology to product developers to enable them to design tomorrow's uses for printable electronics." 

R&D samples of the materials including the new conductive silver ink are available by contacting Xerox. 

Watch as Xerox researcher Paul Smith explains how melting temperature was lowered for new silver conductive ink for printing flexible circuitry. View video here

Paul Smith, laboratory manager of the Xerox Research Centre of Canada, provides a tour of his laboratory, explaining the different components of printable electronics. View video here

MediaNews ​NTU engineers develop innovative process to print flexible electronic circuits Published on: 17-Nov-2014

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​NTU engineers develop innovative 

process to print flexible electronic circuits

Published on: 17-Nov-2014

Webbanner printed flexible electronic circuit.jpgNanyang Technological University (NTU) has successfully printed complex electronic                                       circuits using a common t-shirt printer.
 
The electronic circuits are printed using unique materials in layers on top of everyday                                         flexible materials such as plastic, aluminium foil and even paper.
 
Resistors, transistors and capacitors, the key components of a complex electronic circuit,                                        are printed using non-toxic organic materials like silver nanoparticles, carbon and plastics.
 
Associate Professor Joseph Chang, leader of the NTU research group said their unique                                     printing technique has made mass production of cheap disposable electronic circuits possible. 
 
“This means we can have smarter products, such as a carton that tells you exactly when the                                milk expires, a bandage that prompts you when it is time for a redressing, and smart patches                              that can monitor life signals like your heart rate,” said the electronics expert from NTU’s                                    School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.
 
“We are not competing with high-end processors like those found in smartphones                                                      and electronic devices. Instead we complement them with cheaply printed circuits that                                         cost mere cents instead of a few dollars, making disposable electronics a reality.”
 
The types of complex circuits the team has successfully printed include a 4-bit                                                 digital-to-analog converter – a component commonly used in turning digital signals into                                       sound for speakers and headphones; and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags,                                   commonly used for tracking of goods.
 
The key difference between Prof Chang’s method and the other types of printed electronics                                     is that it is fully additive, which makes it very eco-friendly. The circuits are printed entirely                                 without the use of any toxic chemicals or oxidising agents.
 
“Our innovative process is green, using non-corrosive chemicals. It can be printed on demand                           when needed within minutes. It is also scalable, as you can print large circuits on many types                                 of materials and most importantly, it is low cost, as print technology has been available for                         decades,” Prof Chang added.
 
The innovative printing method pioneered by NTU has resulted in two provisional patents                                     and research papers in several scientific publications, including one which was the second                                 most downloaded in Sciencedirect, a database of 2,500 journals. Of the two patents, one                                         is on a cheap disposable Internet-of-Things for Drug Medication Adherence.
 
NTU start-up to focus on biomedical applications
 
A new start-up company is being established and a venture capitalist has expressed interest                                   to fund the commercialisation of the invention. A multinational biomedical company has also                       expressed interest to adopt the application of printed electronics for biomedical devices.
 
The innovation has also attracted international interest with Prof Chang delivering several                              keynote addresses at major conferences. He has also been recognised by the Institute of                             Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the world’s largest profession for engineers in                                     the field, as a Distinguished Lecturer for the Printed Electronics. 
 
Moving forward, the four-person multi-disciplinary team – two engineers, a material scientist                                   and a chemist – will be looking to develop both digital and analog printable circuits for other                       biomedical applications in sensing and processing, where low-cost smart circuits are required                                 and for smart lighting systems.
 
This three-year research project is funded jointly by NTU, the Agency for Science Technology                             and Research (A*STAR) Science and Engineering Research Council and the Ministry of                             Education Singapore.
 
Prof Chang’s invention is another contribution to the University’s research efforts in Future                       Healthcare and Innovation Asia, two of NTU’s Five Peaks of Excellence – interdisciplinary                             research areas in which the university aims to make a global mark in. The other three peaks                          include Sustainable Earth, New Media and the East-West knowledge hub.
 
Besides ground-breaking research, NTU has had remarkable success translating its research                              into innovative applications. Ranked 39 globally by higher education information provider                       Quacquarelli Symonds, NTU is also ranked No. 1 in the world for industry income and innovation                           by Times Higher Education, and ranked 42nd globally for its scientific research amongst 20,000               institutions worldwide by the new Nature Index released just last week.
***END***

Media contact:
Lester Kok
Senior Assistant Manager 
Corporate Communications Office 
Nanyang Technological University
Tel: 6790 6804
Email: lesterkok@ntu.edu.sg

About Nanyang Technological University
A research-intensive public university, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has 33,500 
undergraduate and postgraduate students in the colleges of Engineering, Business, Science, 
Humanities, Arts, & Social Sciences, and its Interdisciplinary Graduate School. It has a new 
medical school, the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, set up jointly with Imperial College 
London.
NTU is also home to world-class autonomous institutes – the National Institute of Education, 
S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Earth Observatory of Singapore, and Singapore 
Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering – and various leading research centres 
such as the Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute (NEWRI), Energy Research 
Institute @ NTU (ERI@N) and the Institute on Asian Consumer Insight (ACI).
A fast-growing university with an international outlook, NTU is putting its global stamp on Five 
Peaks of Excellence: Sustainable Earth, Future Healthcare, New Media, New Silk Road, and 
Innovation Asia. Besides the main Yunnan Garden campus, NTU also has a satellite campus 
in Singapore’s science and tech hub, one-north, and a third campus in Novena, Singapore’s 
medical district.
For more information, visit www.ntu.edu.sg

Solar panels made three times cheaper and four times more efficient

Solar panels made three times cheaper and four times more efficient



Solar panels made three times cheaper and four times more efficient

March 14, 2010
The Concentrated Universal Energy Solar System (CUESS) to be commercialized by Technique S...
The Concentrated Universal Energy Solar System (CUESS) to be commercialized by Technique Solar
Image Gallery (2 images)

"The technology was originally developed at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) and will be commercially produced by a spinoff company called Technique Solar. Each solar module consists of nine "troughs" that feature a concentrating acrylic lens and reflective walls to focus the sun’s rays onto a strip of photovoltaic (PV) cells, which enables the number of PV cells to be cut by 75 percent. The PV cells are used to generate electricity, while a heat exchanger located under them is used to generate heat for circulating water and storage tanks for a hot water system. Additionally, to maximize the sun’s rays the array has a motor drive mechanism with tracking sensor to follow the sun."
Each CUESS module consists of nine troughs
 "it possible to deliver solar energy more economically and more efficiently than other current forms of solar energy generation. Each 3.5 square meter array apparently produces a total of around 2.1-kW of power, while a standard PV panel would need to be around 12-14 square meters to produce around the same amount" READ MORE

Nanodot-based smartphone battery that recharges in 30 seconds





Nanodot-based smartphone battery that recharges in 30 seconds

New RF circulator to run rings around old technology

New RF circulator to run rings around old technology



New RF circulator to run rings around old technology

November 12, 2014
The new RF circulator could revolutionize microminiature communications devices (Photo: Co...
The new RF circulator could revolutionize microminiature communications devices (Photo: Cockrell School of Engineering at UT)
Image Gallery (2 images)
In the world of electronic components, there are many devices out there that do their job well and reliably, but are almost never heard of – even though they may be vital to equipment that plays a role in our technology-driven lives. The radio frequency (RF) circulator is just such a device: it has simply done its job as a nondescript box of gubbins buried in radio communications systems, quietly directing radio frequency signals to the places they should go. Now researchers at the University of Texas have given the RF circulator a makeover. Not only is the new prototype smaller, lighter, and cheaper, it's also claimed to be easily adapted to different frequencies on the fly, which is something the old style circulator cannot do.
A standard RF circulator is a three-port ferromagnetic passive device used to control the direction of signal flow in a circuit. In simple terms, magnetic fields are used to channel electromagnetic flow in a specific direction, thereby providing two-way communications on the same frequency channel by allowing, for example, two transmitters to use the same antenna. The downside, according to the researchers, is the bulk and weight of a standard circulator.
The new RF circulator uses a circuit created from inexpensive, surface-mount, active semiconductor components. The team predicts that the current prototype is just a start to the miniaturization; the size of future RF circulators may be scaled down much further to sub-miniature versions of the components on an integrated circuit. As a result, the researchers say that this should lead to improvements in cost and size and allow the incorporation of circulators in cellphones and other microelectronic communications devices that may result in faster downloads, fewer call drop-outs and clearer communications.READ MORE!

New technique for generating electricity from mechanical vibrations

New technique for generating electricity from mechanical vibrations



New technique for generating electricity from mechanical vibrations

November 12, 2014
Natural vibrations caused by two surfaces with different work functions repelling and attr...
Natural vibrations caused by two surfaces with different work functions repelling and attracting each other can be used to generate electricity (Image: VTT)
Electrical energy is normally generated through heat, motion, nuclear transformation, or chemical reactions, but now scientists at VTT Technical Research Center of Finland have devised a new method that involves mechanical vibrations. They figured out how to "harvest" the vibrational energy that occurs naturally when two surfaces with different work functions are connected via electrodes, and this energy could potentially be used to power wearables and other low-power electronics.
A work function is a property of the surface of a material that is defined as the difference between the energy of an electron at rest and the minimum thermodynamic work (another form of energy) that is required to remove said electron from the material. It's often applied in photoelectric devices and cathode-ray tubes, and is sometimes guarded against in electronic circuits involving different metals, but it had not before been used in vibration energy harvesting.
The VTT scientists created a parallel-plate capacitor with copper and aluminum that was hooked up to an external circuit. The plates' respective work functions provided the initial one volt charge as electrons fled from one surface to the other. Different electrode materials could theoretically yield higher voltages – over 3 V with wide band-gap semiconductors or over 5 V with n and p-type diamond. The copper plate was fixed in place while a motor vibrated the aluminum plate perpendicular to both plates, either continuously or in pulses.
The researchers also ran simulations of their work function energy harvester in realistic microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) scenarios, determining that the built-in voltage could lead to output power over one order of magnitude higher when the vibration frequency is matched with the mechanical resonance frequency of the device. READ MORE

Google offers up US$1 million prize to shrink size of power inverters

Google offers up US$1 million prize to shrink size of power inverters

Hammond: Preparing students for Texas’ tech boom - Longview News-Journal: Forum

Hammond: Preparing students for Texas’ tech boom - Longview News-Journal: Forum

Grand jury won't indict Ferguson cop in shooting - ABC6 - Providence, RI and New Bedford, MA News, Weather

Grand jury won't indict Ferguson cop in shooting - ABC6 - Providence, RI and New Bedford, MA News, Weather



Grand jury won't indict Ferguson cop in shooting

Posted: Nov 24, 2014 3:19 PM ESTUpdated: Nov 24, 2014 9:32 PM EST
By The Associated Press

news@abc6.com

''FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) _ A grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed, black 18-year-old whose fatal shooting sparked weeks of sometimes-violent protests.

 A grand jury of nine whites and three blacks had been meeting weekly since Aug. 20 to consider evidence.

At least nine votes would have been required to indict Wilson.  ''

(C) The Associated Press 2014

The Ferguson verdict: No indictment | The Economist

The Ferguson verdict: No indictment | The Economist

Discount supermarkets: Going native | The Economist

Discount supermarkets: Going native | The Economist



Discount supermarkets

Going native

"Ireland's grocery market shows Lidl and Aldi still have far to grow across Europe

The Economist explains: Why does liberal Iceland want to ban online pornography? | The Economist

The Economist explains: Why does liberal Iceland want to ban online pornography? | The Economist



"The main reason behind the proposed ban seems paradoxical: it is a result of Iceland being a highly liberal place. The country is run by the world's only openly lesbian prime minister, while 65% of Icelandic children are born outside marriage (more than any other country in the OECD). Children are given extensive sex education in schools. Mini-vibrators and condoms are sold at supermarket checkouts. Along with Norway and Sweden, Iceland has one of the highest rates of female enrolment in higher education (women outnumber men 3:2). Salary gaps between men and women are some of the lowest in the world and the rate of female participation in the labour force is one of the highest. Just after Finland, and at the same time as Denmark, Iceland was one of the earliest countries to grant women the vote in 1915. Iceland's powerful feminist movement is now championing the ban on online pornography, specifically that which is violent or degrading, mostly towards women.
Banning online pornography would be tricky. The definition of violent or degrading pornography would have to be clearly enshrined in law. Iceland would then have to police the internet, a difficult thing to do." READ MORE!
• What else should The Economist explain? Send us your suggestions.

The Black Eyed Peas - Where Is The Love? Grand jury won't indict Ferguson cop in shooting





Grand jury won't indict Ferguson cop in shooting - ABC6 - Providence, RI and New Bedford, MA News, Weather



Grand jury won't indict Ferguson cop in shooting

Posted: Nov 24, 2014 3:19 PM ESTUpdated: Nov 24, 2014 9:32 PM EST
By The Associated Press

news@abc6.com

FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) _ A grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed, black 18-year-old whose fatal shooting sparked weeks of sometimes-violent protests.

 A grand jury of nine whites and three blacks had been meeting weekly since Aug. 20 to consider evidence.

At least nine votes would have been required to indict Wilson.

The Justice Department is conducting an investigation into possible civil rights violations that could result in federal charges.

Brown's Aug. 9 death sparked more than a week of unrest that included angry clashes between police and protesters and led Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to briefly summon the National Guard.

(C) The Associated Press 2014"

Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus: A Brief Review Biswajit Batabyal1* , Gautam K.R. Kundu2 and Shibendu Biswas1 1Department of Microbiology, Gurunanak Institute of Dental Science and Research, Panihati, Kolkata-700114, West Bengal, INDIA Abstract Really Interesting

http://www.isca.in/IJBS/Archive/v1i7/14.ISCA-IRJBS-2012-184.pdf


Review Paper
Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus: A Brief Review
Biswajit Batabyal1*
, Gautam K.R. Kundu2
and Shibendu Biswas1
1Department of Microbiology, Gurunanak Institute of Dental Science and Research, Panihati, Kolkata-700114, West Bengal, INDIA
2Dept. of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry, Gurunanak Institute of Dental Science & Research, Panihati, Kolkata-700114, WB, INDIA
Available online at: www.isca.in
Received 30th September 2012, revised 30th October 2012, accepted 8
th November 2012

Abstract
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a bacterium responsible for several difficult-to-treat infections in
humans. It is also called multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and oxacillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (ORSA).
MRSA is any strain of Staphylococcus aureus that has developed, through the process of natural selection, resistance to betalactam
antibiotics, which include the penicillins (methicillin, dicloxacillin, nafcillin, oxacillin, etc.) and the cephalosporins.
Strains unable to resist these antibiotics are classified as methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus, or MSSA. The evolution
of such resistance does not cause the organism to be more intrinsically virulent than strains of Staphylococcus aureus that have
no antibiotic resistance, but resistance does make MRSA infection more difficult to treat with standard types of antibiotics and
thus more dangerous.MRSA is especially troublesome in hospitals, prisons and nursing homes, where patients with open
wounds, invasive devices, and weakened immune systems are at greater risk of infection than the general public.

Keywords: MRSA, causes, molecular genetics, laboratory diagnosis, prevention.

Introduction
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are a type
of staphylococcus or "staph" bacteria that are resistant to many
antibiotics. Staph bacteria, like other kinds of bacteria, normally
live on the skin and in the nose, usually without causing
problems.

MRSA is different from other types of staph because it cannot
be treated with certain antibiotics such as methicillin. Staph
bacteria only become a problem when they cause infection. For
some people, especially those who are weak or ill, these
infections can become serious.

MRSA infections are more difficult to treat than ordinary staph
infections. This is because the strains of staph known as MRSA
do not respond well to many common antibiotics used to kill
bacteria. 

READ MORE!

Getting Free Of Self-Importance Is The Key To Happiness: Polly Young-Eisendrath at TEDxMiddlebury - YouTube

Getting Free Of Self-Importance Is The Key To Happiness: Polly Young-Eisendrath at TEDxMiddlebury - YouTube

America's Infrastructure Disinvestment Will Slow the Development of a Sustainable Economy | Steven Cohen

America's Infrastructure Disinvestment Will Slow the Development of a Sustainable Economy | Steven Cohen



Steven Cohen Headshot

America's Infrastructure Disinvestment Will Slow the Development of a Sustainable Economy

Posted: Updated: 
US INFRASTRUCTURE
This is the 50th anniversary of New York's Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the span that connects Staten Island with Brooklyn. As a child growing up in Brooklyn I remember watching its towers rise as if by magic. I always connected it with the 1964 World's Fair which took place the same year the bridge opened, thinking they were both signs of the dazzling modern world that we would all get to live in. The bridge remains as beautiful as ever, although it eventually led to a great deal of poorly planned development in Staten Island, and its rising tolls remain a source of frustration to many who need to use it. Still, like New York's third water tunnel and the Second Avenue Subway it is a sign of New York's willingness to invest in the future. Infrastructure in a place like New York is a matter of survival. The City's $20 billion climate resiliency plan includes major improvements in critical pieces of the City's infrastructure, and the need for this investment transcends politics.
But unfortunately New York is an exception; throughout America, disinvestment in infrastructure is far more typical. America's focus seems to be on individual spending, not investment in community resources. We refuse to tax ourselves and the signs of neglect are everywhere. Our airports are second-rate, our roads are crumbling, our rail system is a joke, and our power grid is inefficient and a long way from the smart grid we will need to make the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. According to an article in The Economist earlier this year:
America saw two great booms in infrastructure spending in the past century, the first during the Great Depression... and the second in the 1950s and 60s, when most of the interstate highway system was. Since then, public infrastructure spending as a share of GDP has declined to about half the European level.
One of our deepest problems is that the federal gasoline tax was not established as a percentage of the price of gasoline, but as a set amount of cents per gallon. It has not kept up with inflation, and the federal highway trust fund which once built the interstate highway system does not have enough money in it to maintain the system already built.
The problem is not simply with highways and is not limited to the federal government; the problem is reduced public investment by all levels of government. This past June, in FiveThirtyEight.com, Andrew Flowers made sense of the situation in an excellent analysis entitled: "America's Broken Infrastructure." According to Flowers:
Quantifying infrastructure investment is a challenge, but one place to start is by looking at the amount of money the government spends on buildings and large-scale projects. Nationwide, public construction spending is just over 1.5 percent of GDP -- the lowest share since 1993. Public construction does not exactly equate with infrastructure investment, but it's a fair proxy...Most of the money spent on building schools, highways and waste disposal facilities comes from state and local governments, not from the federal government. As of April 2014, more than 90 percent of the $267 billion spent by the public sector (at a seasonally adjusted annual rate) was at the state and local levels...
Flowers believes the cause of state and local disinvestment is fiscal stress from three sources:
  1. The 2008 financial meltdown and Great Recession. State and local debt as a percentage of GDP grew from 12% in 2000 to over 20% in 2010, declining to about 17% last year. The high level of state and local debt service has made these governments reluctant to borrow more for infrastructure.
  2. Pension obligations for retired government workers.
  3. The dysfunction in Washington that has endangered the highway trust fund. The federal highway trust fund typically distributed between $40-50 billion a year, but is now essentially broke.
America's fundamental problem is that anti-tax ideology has become an anti-investment reality. We would rather pay for high-definition TV's and new iPhones than invest in the cost of community resources. We don't trust our institutions to deliver what they promise, and so we have lost our ability to build for the future or even maintain the infrastructure we built in the past.
To get out of this box we will need the Republican Party to enact state taxes for infrastructure. Starting in January 2015, 67 of the 98 state legislatures that permit partisan control will be run by Republicans. Twenty-four states will be controlled by both Republican governors and Republican legislatures compared to six states controlled by Democrats. Therefore, at the state level, the Republican Party is now the majority party in the United States. Republicans now hold the responsibility for the nation's crumbling infrastructure. Unfortunately, there is no chance that they will raise the revenues needed for rebuilding. Many of them came to office fighting new taxation, and they tend to be committed to reducing rather than increasing government spending.
Moreover, right-wing think tanks like the Cato Institute reinforce anti-government ideology by redefining infrastructure itself, and opposing increased public spending. In a fascinating 2013 analysis of the issue entitled, "Infrastructure Investment," Chris Edwards observes that: "The word "infrastructure" generally refers to long-lived fixed assets that provide a backbone for other production and consumption activities in the economy." He then defines private infrastructure so expansively that he includes investment in private factories. According to Edwards:
Most of America's infrastructure is provided by the private sector, not governments. In 2012 gross fixed private investment was an enormous $2 trillion, according to national income accounts data. That includes investment in factories, pipelines, refineries, cell phone towers, and many other facilities. By contrast, total federal, state, and local government infrastructure investment in 2012 was $472 billion. Excluding national defense, government investment was $367 billion. Thus, private infrastructure investment in the United States is five times larger than total nondefense government investment.
Edwards believes that the public sector tends to waste the money it spends on infrastructure and there would be more infrastructure investment if we just privatized everything. He denies that we have a problem with infrastructure and notes that highway maintenance and bridge quality is improving. (I'm not sure where he drives, but it can't be in this country). It is very difficult to address the problem of crumbling infrastructure when it is defined away, or seen as a function of overregulation by government. The problem is underinvestment, not overregulation.
Susanne Trimbath takes a more sophisticated but also expansive conception of infrastructure in her U.S. Chamber of Commerce analysis entitled: "Economic Infrastructure: building for prosperity." In her view, "infrastructure is not the end result of economic activity, rather it is the framework that makes economic activity possible." Trimbath examines the impact of public infrastructure investment on economic growth. Generally speaking it has a positive impact on growth when it is either not accompanied by regulation or is accompanied by predictable, but flexible rules. Trimbath observes that one of the problems we see everywhere is that those providing capital like to set rules, and sometimes on the ground those rules can lead to costly mistakes. Her analysis is not ideological, but rather seeks to identify the best way to fund and structure cost-effective infrastructure. She is not opposed to public infrastructure expenditure, she just wants to make sure that it pays off. In the past year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce went on record in support of an increase in the gas tax. America's businesses seem to be in favor of paved highways.
What I took from Trimbath's work was that we must transcend the left-wing ideology that government must "build baby build" and the right wind ideology that "only the private sector knows how to build" and approach the real, more complex issue. All infrastructure is not created equal. Some deliver pure public goods that cannot be priced by the market, require subsidies and involve issues of social equity, such as the infrastructure that delivers water or that transports motor vehicles. In contrast, some infrastructure is designed to help a private business build and operate a facility, like an entrance ramp from an interstate to a Home Depot and Costco. Some infrastructure is a good investment of public debt; some is not. A convention center or stadium is less essential than a water tunnel, sewage treatment plant, a bridge, a port or an air traffic control facility. Some infrastructure investments pay off faster than others. Some will always require a subsidy.
My concern is that the anti-tax ideology of the day is removing the public's voice in influencing the long-term shape of economic development. My particular fear is that the public resources needed to hasten the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy will be impossible to generate. I see a federal investment in smart grid design and implementation as the modern-day equivalent of the interstate highway project of the mid-20th century. Similar funding is needed to manage our water supply and waste management system and to update our transport system. The capital needed will come from many sources, but if government is not a major contributor it either will not happen or it will happen in a way that reduces access and opportunities for America's middle and working class.
A just society requires equality of access to information, energy, transport and economic opportunity. Capitalism will ensure that outcomes and the odds of success will remain unequal. That is the cost of a system that rewards individual achievement; the benefit is the productive economy many of us enjoy. However, only government can ensure that everyone has access to opportunity. Public funding of infrastructure is a critical element of that access. In my home city, everyone can ride the subway from home to work. My late grandfather could take the subway from his home in East New York to his job as a baker. Billionaire Mike Bloomberg took the same system from his townhouse to City Hall. Without that subway, my grandfather could not have gotten to work, my father and his brothers wouldn't have attended college, and I would not have had the opportunity to write this piece.