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Iran Presidential election: Any difference among moderate, reformist, conservative…?

Taking aim at Hassan Rohani: The reformist president of Iran faces a tough re-election

Face-off: Politician versus religious legal personalities

Hardliners are cracking down on social media

APPLICATIONS for the ticklish job of president of Iran opened this week, with more than 100 hopefuls vying to replace the incumbent, Hassan Rohani, a relative moderate, at the election on May 19th. (They were 1,300 candidates a couple days ago, including former President Najad)

The religious conservatives who loom so large in Iran are hoping they can unite around a single candidate, overcoming the divisions that doomed their prospects in 2013 and allowed Mr Rohani to win.

Their preferred man is Ebrahim Raeisi, the newly appointed head of one of Iran’s most important and best-endowed shrines, Imam Reza in Mashhad. In addition to income from the shrine’s holdings, which include car factories, he is a protégé of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But to Mr Raeisi’s probable consternation, on April 12th a divisive ultra-conservative former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also entered the race, despite orders from Mr Khamenei not to stand. This makes it more likely that the hardliners will again see their vote split.

Still, the anti-Iranian rhetoric of Donald Trump, America’s president, is a big bonus for the anti-reformists, should they come together.

After a nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers was concluded in 2015, Mr Rohani’s re-election had seemed assured. But the promised fruits from the lifting of UN sanctions (in return for Iran curbing its nuclear programme) have been slow to arrive. Far from encouraging investment in Iran, America has tightened some sanctions, and continues to prevent Iran from trading in dollars.

With the army, Revolutionary Guards, judiciary and state television in their hands, as well as the power to approve candidates (which the Guardians Council they dominate has yet to do for the coming election), Mr Khamenei’s hardliners already wield huge power. They are now targeting social media, where pro-Rohani reformists have until now mostly operated freely.

Last month masked goons arrested 12 administrators of popular social-media news channels.

But the hardliners’ task is proving daunting.

First in their sights is a phone app, Telegram, that enables encrypted messaging between users, and also offers uncensored news channels. It claims 20m Iranian users and thousands of Persian-language channels, some claiming over a million subscribers.

Last year it helped the reformists get out the vote in parliamentary elections. Confounding the hardliners’ efforts to disqualify well-known reformist candidates, voters went to the polls armed with “lists of hope” of the lesser-knowns on their phones, and unseated the staunchest conservatives, some of Mr Khamenei’s relatives among them.

No sooner had Mr Raeisi’s candidacy been announced than they began tarnishing his squeaky-clean image with claims that, as a 28-year-old prosecutor, he had sentenced hundreds of leftist political prisoners to death.

Under a more reactionary government, censors might have banned Telegram.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the hardline former president, simply switched off the mobile network when protesters contested his 2009 re-election, and restricted internet bandwidth to such an extent that it took hours to access a page. Facebook and Twitter were banned.

But Mr Rohani’s government has made censorship harder. It has boosted bandwidth a hundredfold, compared with 2009. And it has expanded mobile coverage from 39% to 99% of Iran, including to 27,000 villages which the hardliners hitherto considered strongholds.

So Mr Rohani continues to get his message out. Recent signs of mild economic improvement may have given his continued support for Western engagement a boost, too. The hardliners will not have the campaign all their own way.

This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline “Taking aim at the president”
Note: Hezbollah in Lebanon is usually affected to some degree by these elections, even though it is directly linked to Khamenei

They are complementary with advantages: Optimists and pessimists

If I were in a position of power, I’ll surround myself with optimistic consultants, counsels and close assistants.

If I were in a position of power, I’ll appoint the executive and operators from the kinds of pessimists.

Many think that I got it wrong and not matching any logic or scientific research outcomes.

Power is assessed and evaluated by the number and quality of decisions.

Decisions considered almost impossible to undertake and eventually taken are highly ranked in your favor.

And these decisions require a climate of optimistic surrounding.

Pessimistic executives and operational personnel will achieve what has to be done and do the job most effectively: They are paid for a job well done. And they are better than optimists in considering the dangerous risks in health, safety and hasty execution in any project.

Pessimists may take longer to finish the job, but the job saves you many fold the delays from repairs, lousy maintenance tasks, accidents and near accidents.

The correct term is Effectiveness in the longer-term.

The Not so realist neural mechanism in the Hippocampi, amygdala, and anterior cortex Cingular are the center or source of optimistic activities. Otherwise, from our successive experiences, mankind tend to be at least slightly depressed as they observe the world as is.

Until we manage to communicate with various animal species, the conjecture is that pessimism is a typical mankind survival addition.

The magical thinking that reinforce our confidence allows us to adapt to contingencies contrary to our plans.

There are people with rooted pessimism tendencies. Prosper Merimee wrote in 1873:

Get rid of your optimism and start figuring out that we are in this world to fight one another

In general, people who survive calamities, particularly man-made catastrophic phenomena and genocide are mostly of the pessimist kinds. Once they decide on a line of actions, they don’t look back.

The active pessimist live side by side with the will-powered optimists.

Sane optimist needs the well-founded pessimistic arguments in order for his rational thinking to be useful and works for encouraging cooperation among individuals: The much needed guidance to getting out of the planetary obstacles.

What we need are the pessimists who circumvented their natural tendencies in order look optimistically into the future: What we can observe today that could guide us into a better future.

 

Environmental management practices in the Lebanese pharmaceutical industries

187(3):4290. doi: 10.1007/s10661-015-4290-3. Epub 2015 Feb 12.

Implementation strategies and challenges.

Author information

  • 1Department of Environmental Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, American University of Beirut, P.O. Box 11-0236, Riad el Solh, Beirut, 1107 2020, Lebanon, maymassoud@yahoo.com.

Abstract

This research attempts to provide an understanding of the Lebanese pharmaceutical industries’ environmental management strategies, priorities, and perceptions as well as drivers, barriers, and incentives regarding the implementation of the voluntary ISO 14001 Environmental Management System.

Accordingly, a semistructured in-depth interview was conducted with the pharmaceutical industries.

The findings revealed a significant lack of knowledge about the standard among the industries.

The main perceived drivers for adopting the ISO 14001 are improving the companies’ image and overcoming international trade.

The main perceived barriers for acquiring the standard are the lack of government support and the fact that ISO 14001 is not being legally required or enforced by the government.

Results revealed that adopting the ISO 14001 standard is not perceived as a priority for the Lebanese pharmaceutical industries. Although the cost of certification was not considered as a barrier for the implementation of ISO 14001, the majority of the pharmaceutical industries are neither interested nor willing to adopt the Standard if they are not exposed to any regulatory pressure or external demand.

They are more concerned with quality and safety issues with the most adopted international standard among the industries being the ISO 9001 quality management system.

This study highlights the aspect that financial barriers are not always the hurdles for implementing environmental management strategies in developing countries and underscores the need for regulatory frameworks and enforcement.

PMID:
25673269
[PubMed – in process]

How to double return on your investment? Have you considered Employment through Social Enterprise?

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 5, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ —

Today REDF announced the findings of the Mathematica Jobs Study (MJS), showing social enterprise businesses provide a cost-effective way to both improve the lives of people who face barriers to work and generate savings for communities and taxpayers.

Beyond an average 268% monthly wage increase for those employed by these businesses, the report also revealed that the social enterprises generate a significant return on investment for society.

Commissioned by REDF, a grantee of the Social Innovation Fund, this first-of-its-kind study was conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, an internationally-known research and evaluation firm.

Jobs report from REDF and Mathematica Policy Research evaluates the impact of jobs for people facing barriers to employment

“Hundreds of thousands of people in this country want what we all want, the opportunity to work and contribute to their families and communities, but don’t currently have the chance,” said Carla Javits, REDF President & CEO.

“As a results-driven organization, we can now make the powerful case that social enterprises that put people to work not only generate the obvious benefits of greater hope and a paycheck, but also produce a clear win for taxpayers.”

REDF provides funding, business connections, and operational expertise to social enterprises, which are mission-driven businesses focused on hiring and assisting people who are willing and able to work, but have the hardest time getting a job, like people who’ve been in prison or homeless, young people who’ve dropped out of school, and those who live with mental health disabilities.

Some of the barriers to employment that people faced included:

  • 25 percent had never had a job;
  • 85 percent did not have stable housing in the year before starting the job; and
  • Only 23 percent of their monthly income came from work, with 71 percent coming from government benefits.

Social enterprises provide employees with real on-the-job skills development and comprehensive benefits including job placement services, counseling, and life-stability supports.

With the goal of helping employees secure long-term employment, these transitional jobs enable people to realize their full potential and establish a career path.

The Mathematica Jobs Study contains four integrated study components, finding that about one year after the social enterprise job began, workers were more likely to be employed, had greater economic self-sufficiency, and more stable housing.

Other successes include:

  • 67 percent of social enterprise employees were still working 6 months later.
  • These workers were more likely to be employed than those that were not hired: Social enterprise employment led to a 19 percentage point increase in employment one year later, compared to those that were not hired by the social enterprise and only received job readiness and search services.
  • Income from government benefits went down from 71 percent to 24 percent.
  • Housing stability tripled with employees living in a home or apartment throughout the year. (15 percent to 53 percent).
  • 90 percent received training to build soft, vocational or technical skills, and nearly 80 percent received material work support such as clothing, transportation or housing assistance, making this a comprehensive and holistic approach to employment preparedness.

In addition to the benefits for the individual, there is a significant return on investment for society:

  • For each dollar spent by social enterprise, taxpayers save $1.31. When you add in the social enterprise’s revenue, and worker’s income, the return on investment rises to $2.23. This means a $100,000 investment would have a return of $223,000 for society.

This report is based upon work supported by the Social Innovation Fund (SIF), a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).

The Social Innovation Fund combines public and private resources to grow the impact of innovative, community-based solutions that have compelling evidence of improving the lives of people in low-income communities throughout the United States.

As an awardee of the inaugural year of SIF grants in 2011, REDF is one of the first organizations funded by this initiative to deliver on that promise – new, compelling evidence of the power of an innovative approach to solve one of America’s most vexing problems.

“The Social Innovation Fund’s promise is simple, find solutions that work and make them work for more people,” said Lois Nembhard, Deputy Director of the Social Innovation Fund.

“With this promise, we are proud to support REDF’s Mathematica Jobs Study, which serves as a catalyst for other social enterprises and organizations in finding innovative, cost-effective ways to impact the lives of economically disadvantaged individuals.”

For more information on the Mathematica Jobs Study, click here: www.redf.org/finalmjsreportbrief.

About REDF

REDF creates jobs and employment opportunities for people facing the greatest barriers to work – like people who’ve been homeless or in prison, young people disconnected from work or school, and people with mental health disabilities.

Founded in 1997 by George R. Roberts (KKR), REDF provides funding and expertise to organizations in California to launch and grow social enterprises, which are mission-driven businesses focused on hiring and assisting people who face barriers to work.

As a result REDF has helped thousands of people in California get jobs and find hope.  Now REDF is taking best practices learned from nearly two decades of experience to grow their impact nationally and put hundreds of thousands of people to work. For more information, follow REDF on Twitter at @REDF_CA or visit http://redf.org/.

Photo – http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20150204/173631-INFO
Logo – http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20150204/173632LOGO

Most Important Bankruptcy In U.S. History?

Not Detroit, but General Motor?

Many people, including President Obama, have trumpeted their role in the success of the government-backed turnaround plan that saved General Motors, the most important industrial company in the history of the United States.

But on the fifth anniversary of the crisis, Forbes presents an exclusive, unprecedented look at what really happened during GM’s darkest days, how a tiny band of corporate outsiders and turnaround experts convened in Detroit and hatched a radical plan that ultimately set the foundation for the salvation of the company.

Dan Bigman, Forbes Staff, published on Nov. 18, 2012:

How General Motors Was Really Saved: The Untold True Story Of The Most Important Bankruptcy In U.S. History

Author Jay Alix, one of the most respected experts on corporate bankruptcy in America, was the architect of that plan, and now, for the first time, he reveals How General Motors Was Really Saved.

By Jay Alix

For months the news was horrific, a pounding beat of warm-up obituaries for what once had been America’s greatest and most influential corporation: General Motors.

At death’s door or already in the graveyard were Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, AIG and Citibank. The mood was apocalyptic.

With car sales in a free fall from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, GM was losing billions and running out of cash. By the time the company closed its books on 2008, it would be in the red by a staggering $30.9 billion.

Chief executive Rick Wagoner led the auto delegation in Washington to seek government funding in order o save the industry and keep GM out of bankruptcy.

Five years later, after an unprecedented government equity investment, GM is thriving and the Treasury plans to sell its remaining stake in the coming months. With countless articles and books now written about the GM restructuring and turnaround–not to mention three years of trumpeting by the Obama Administration taking full credit for the turnaround’s success–the most startling aspect of the prevailing narrative is that the core of how the restructuring really happened, inside GM, is yet to be fully told.

In the popular version of the company’s turnaround story, as GM teetered toward liquidation in 2009, an Obama-appointed SWAT team, led by financier Steven Rattner, swept in and hatched a radical plan: Through a novel use of the bankruptcy code they would save the company by segregating and spinning out its valuable assets, while Washington furnished billions in taxpayer funds to make sure the company was viable.

The real GM turnaround story, significant in saving the auto industry and the economy, is contrary to the one that has been published. In fact, the plan that was developed, implemented and then funded by the government was devised inside GM well before President Obama took office.

In what follows, the inside story of this historic chapter in American business unfolds, laying bare the key facts.

GM’s extraordinary turnaround began long before Wagoner went to Washington in search of a massive loan to keep GM alive. My involvement in that story began in GM’s darkest days, five years ago on Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008, when I visited Wagoner at his home that morning, presenting a novel plan to save General Motors.

As a consultant with expertise in restructurings and turnarounds, I had completed a half-dozen assignments at GM over the years. I had worked with Wagoner in 1992 when he became chief financial officer. I was asked to come in for a two-year stint as CEO of GM’s National Car Rental, the first time GM had recruited an outsider to lead a turnaround in one of its subsidiaries.

By 2008 I had over 20 years of experience with the auto industry and almost 30 years of working on turnarounds.

But for the past eight years I had backed away from business and my firm, AlixPartners, to care for my daughters after the death of my wife. I was essentially “retired.” But GM’s enveloping crisis and my friendship with Wagoner would bring me out.

Early on that November Sunday I called Wagoner at his home in a Detroit suburb. I asked to see him right away, explaining that I had a new idea that could help save the company.

Three hours later I walked through his front door and into his family room. I knew Wagoner believed GM could not survive a bankruptcy. Studies showed consumer confidence would crash. No one would buy a car from a company that was bankrupt. However, what I knew about the economic crisis and GM’s rapidly deteriorating liquidity position told me the company had no choice but to prepare for a bankruptcy.

Yet I agreed with Wagoner. For a global company as big and complex as GM, a “normal” bankruptcy would tie up the company’s affairs for years, driving away customers, resulting in a tumultuous liquidation. It had happened to other companies a fraction of GM’s size. It would mean the end of GM.

“I don’t think the company will survive a bankruptcy,” he told me. “And no one has shown me a plan that would allow it to survive a bankruptcy.”

War room: Wagoner and Alix saved GM with one of corporate America’s greatest Hail Marys, but neither stayed with the company.

“Filing bankruptcy may be inevitable, Rick. But it doesn’t have to be a company-killing bankruptcy,” I said. “I think we can create a unique strategy that allows GM to survive bankruptcy.”

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Love of learning is the new employability

Train graduates with the right “attitudes and attributes” to keep learning for life,

Ensuring that skills are used at work will soon be a focus of future education debate, Pearson report argues

Female student reading and studying in library

Making sure graduates use their skills in the workplace could become as important to education policymakers as the quality of university learning in the first place, according to a report that warns that skills “atrophy” if left dormant.

The Learning Curve: Education and Skills for Life, published by the education firm Pearson on 8 May, uses the example of South Korea, which shows a particularly sharp drop in problem-solving skills for adults once they pass the age of 24.

Part of the explanation is that a higher than average proportion of the country’s graduates do not go on to employment or further training, “a situation in which their hard-won skills are more likely to atrophy”, it suggests.

It cites Eric Hanushek, an educational economist based at Stanford University, as saying that whether or not skills are put to use in employment – and so kept sharp – will be as big a part of the future education debate as formal education itself.

Sir Michael Barber, Pearson’s chief education adviser, told Times Higher Education that in the 21st century “it’s clear that however great your first degree is, you’re going to have to keep learning”.

Because there is so little certainty about what the jobs of the future will involve, universities must train graduates with the right “attitudes and attributes” to keep learning for life, he said, noting that this was something the “best” higher education already did.

Universities should focus on this when trying to improve employability, he added, rather than on “preparation for a specific job”.

Although some universities and institutional leaders are “thinking radically” about this, he said, “individual academics” found it “harder” to accept this idea.

Sir Michael added: “If graduates leave with a love of learning, that’s good for employability.

The report also warns that widening access to education through technology – massive open online courses, for example – “appears to be not enough” to retrain under-skilled adults because those likely to take Moocs are already highly educated.

This is because people who have already learned a lot will have the confidence to “That goes into reverse for people who struggle at school.” Sir Michael

david.matthews@tsleducation.com

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

Origins of life? Here we go again with new evidences

In the beginning, there were simple chemicals. And they produced amino acids that eventually became the proteins necessary to create single cells. And the single cells became plants and animals.

Recent research is revealing how the primordial soup created the amino acid building blocks, and there is widespread scientific consensus on the evolution from the first cell into plants and animals.

But it’s still a mystery how the building blocks were first assembled into the proteins that formed the machinery of all cells.

Now, two long-time University of North Carolina scientists – Richard Wolfenden, PhD, and Charles Carter, PhD – have shed new light on the transition from building blocks into life some 4 billion years ago.

“Our work shows that the close linkage between the of amino acids, the , and protein folding was likely essential from the beginning, long before large, sophisticated molecules arrived on the scene,” said Carter, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the UNC School of Medicine.

“This close interaction was likely the key factor in the evolution from building blocks to organisms.”

Their findings, published in companion papers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, fly in the face of the problematic “RNA world” theory, which posits that RNA – the molecule that today plays roles in coding, regulating, and expressing genes – elevated itself from the primordial soup of amino acids and cosmic chemicals to give rise first to short proteins called peptides and then to single-celled organisms.

Wolfenden and Carter argue that RNA did not work alone; in fact, it was no more likely that RNA catalyzed peptide formation than it was for peptides to catalyze RNA formation.

The finding adds a new layer to the story of how life evolved billions of years ago.

Its name was LUCA

The scientific community recognizes that 3.6 billion years ago there existed the last universal common ancestor, or LUCA, of all living things presently on Earth. It was likely a single-cell organism. It had a few hundred genes. It already had complete blueprints for DNA replication, protein synthesis, and RNA transcription.

It had all the basic components – such as lipids – that modern organisms have. From LUCA forward, it’s relatively easy to see how life as we know it evolved.

Before 3.6 billion years, however, there is no hard evidence about how LUCA arose from a boiling caldron of chemicals that formed on Earth after the creation of the planet about 4.6 billion years ago. Those chemicals reacted to form amino acids, which remain the building blocks of proteins in our own cells today.

“We know a lot about LUCA and we are beginning to learn about the chemistry that produced like amino acids, but between the two there is a desert of knowledge,” Carter said. “We haven’t even known how to explore it.”

The UNC research represents an outpost in that desert.

“Dr. Wolfenden established physical properties of the twenty amino acids, and we have found a link between those properties and the genetic code,” Carter said. “That link suggests to us that there was a second, earlier code that made possible the peptide-RNA interactions necessary to launch a selection process that we can envision creating the first life on Earth.”

Thus, Carter said, RNA did not have to invent itself from the . Instead, even before there were cells, it seems more likely that there were interactions between amino acids and nucleotides that led to the co-creation of proteins and RNA.

Complexity from simplicity

Proteins must fold in specific ways to function properly.

The first PNAS paper, led by Wolfenden, shows that both the polarities of the twenty amino acids (how they distribute between water and oil) and their sizes help explain the complex process of protein folding – when a chain of connected amino acids arranges itself to form a particular 3-dimensional structure that has a specific biological function.

Our experiments show how the polarities of amino acids change consistently across a wide range of temperatures in ways that would not disrupt the basic relationships between genetic coding and ,” said Wolfenden, Alumni Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics. This was important to establish because when life was first forming on Earth, temperatures were hot, probably much hotter than they are now or when the first plants and animals were established.

A series of biochemical experiments with amino acids conducted in Wolfenden’s lab showed that two properties – the sizes as well as the polarities of amino acids – were necessary and sufficient to explain how the amino acids behaved in folded proteins and that these relationships also held at the higher temperatures of Earth 4 billion years ago.

The second PNAS paper, led by Carter, delves into how enzymes called aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases recognized transfer ribonucleic acid, or tRNA. Those enzymes translate the genetic code.

Think of tRNA as an adapter,” Carter said. “One end of the adapter carries a particular amino acid; the other end reads the genetic blueprint for that amino acid in messenger RNA. Each synthetase matches one of the twenty amino acids with its own adapter so that the genetic blueprint in messenger RNA faithfully makes the correct every time.”

Carter’s analysis shows that the two different ends of the L-shaped tRNA molecule contained independent codes or rules that specify which amino acid to select. The end of tRNA that carried the amino acid sorted amino acids specifically according to size.

The other end of the L-shaped tRNA molecule is called the tRNA anticodon. It reads codons, which are sequences of three RNA nucleotides in genetic messages that select amino acids according to polarity.

Wolfenden and Carter’s findings imply that the relationships between tRNA and the physical properties of the – their sizes and polarities – were crucial during the Earth’s primordial era.

In light of Carter’s previous work with very small active cores of tRNA synthetases called Urzymes, it now seems likely that selection by size preceded selection according to polarity. This ordered selection meant that the earliest proteins did not necessarily fold into unique shapes, and that their unique structures evolved later.

Carter said, “Translating the genetic code is the nexus connecting pre-biotic chemistry to biology.”

He and Wolfenden believe that the intermediate stage of genetic coding can help resolve two paradoxes: how complexity arose from simplicity, and how life divided the labor between two very different kinds of polymers: proteins and nucleic acids.

“The fact that genetic coding developed in two successive stages – the first of which was relatively simple – may be one reason why life was able to emerge while the earth was still quite young,” Wolfenden noted.

An earlier code, which enabled the earliest coded peptides to bind RNA, may have furnished a decisive selective advantage. And this primitive system could then undergo a natural selection process, thereby launching a new and more biological form of evolution.

“The collaboration between RNA and peptides was likely necessary for the spontaneous emergence of complexity,” Carter added. “In our view, it was a peptide-RNA world, not an RNA-only world.”


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