ST LOUIS — I'm the guy who never answered the phone when caller ID said "Number Unavailable." I don't want every opinion, every perspective, and every trend to be visible to those who would mold public opinion. I am suspicious that had the power brokers in Washington known what was coming, they'd have found a way to get Hillary Clinton into office. I didn't want that. I'm fed up. Enough is enough. I want my country back. This is supposed to be a government of the people — not of the banks, lobbyists and foreign donors.
I am one of an endangered species called the American middle class. An aging baby boomer — one of the last generation, it seems, who inherited a future brighter than his parents. I grew up in manufacturing in the Rust Belt, and embraced the application of new technologies for innovation. My career spans more than four decades at companies like John Deere and Boeing and Emerson Electric. I have worked in many jobs from laborer to vice president of operations. I've lived and worked all over the world.
I am not an enthusiastic Donald Trump supporter. In fact, Trump was the very last candidate among the Republicans I wanted to see in this position. He was boorish, inarticulate and ill-informed. He has been crass, bombastic and coarse throughout the campaign, in ways that made me physically wince. How I wish we could have selected someone with Newt Gingrich's command of the facts, Sen. Marco Rubio's eloquence, Mike Huckabee's character, Sen. Ted Cruz's deep love of the Constitution, Carly Fiorina's clarity of thought and Ben Carson's humility and gentleness. Perhaps we'll get some of these things in President-elect Trump's Cabinet; I hope so.
But in the meantime, I am hearing some of you pollsters lamenting that you missed me in your polling, and wondering how almost all of you got it so incredibly wrong. Astonishingly, filmmaker Michael Moore, with whom I disagree about almost everything, got it right. I am angry, and I am frustrated.
Since Ronald Reagan, I have not seen a politician deliver on his or her promises to the American people; not Democrats and not Republicans. George H.W. Bush told us to read his lips, there would be no new taxes; but of course there were. President Obama promised that if you like your health-care plan and doctor, you can keep your health-care plan and doctor, and your costs will go down. We couldn't, and they didn't. He and his surrogates, including Sen. Claire McCaskill, D, here in Missouri, promised back in 2012 that there would be huge infrastructure projects, producing thousands of "shovel-ready jobs." They never materialized. Hillary Clinton said the events in Benghazi were caused by a video. They weren't. She also promised that she'd never handled any classified material on her private server, though she had.
The leaders in both parties thought I'd forget, and just continue to let all this slide. They thought I didn't understand how they have been lining their own pockets by funneling the money through devices like the Clinton Foundation. They thought I would accept their push to move American governance under the umbrellas of international agreements, alliances and trade deals designed to enrich a few corrupt politicians at the expense of American workers. They thought I would voluntarily remain impotent as the median U.S. household income declined, illegal immigrants continued to enter the United States and the sovereignty of our borders was shredded. They thought I'd just get over the way the Internal Revenue Service was used to target conservative organizations, and the way the Justice Department simply ignored laws like the Defense of Marriage Act that were disliked by the current administration.
Election cycle after election cycle, we sent politicians to Washington to fix these things, and cycle after cycle they failed us. In fact, they betrayed us. When Rep. Paul D. Ryan signed on to President Obama"s latest budget, I finally realized that it isn't just the Democrats or liberals in general that are the problem. We desperately need to clean house on both sides of the aisle. We need term limits for all members of Congress. We need to return government to sane, responsible adults. We must stop pandering to the tiny minority who would throw away every vestige of our heritage and our religious underpinnings. We must renew our commitment to the principles that made us the greatest country humanity has ever known.
But you, the pollsters and the incredibly biased "mainstream" media, wouldn't listen to me. You have been too busy promoting your own poisonous agenda. You did everything you could to brand conservatives as homophobic, xenophobic, greedy racists. You focused on spurious issues like genderless bathrooms and celebrity sex changes. You rebranded "pro-abortion" as "pro-choice." You rebranded radical Islamic terrorism as "workplace violence." You have continued your Machiavellian spinning of information and public perception, purposely drowning the voices of reason in your wake, year after excruciating year.
America is not intolerant, it is kind and welcoming and insists only that people follow the rule of law and assimilate if they come here. America is not dull; it teems with innovation and invention and productivity at levels unmatched by anyone in the world. America is not evil; in fact, it remains — even with all its flaws — the single greatest force for good in the world, as it has since the early 1900s.
I know, because I — the normal, faceless American citizen — am the heart and soul of this country. You fail to understand this because you are listening exclusively to America's worst critics; people who believe only in tearing down the traditions, perspectives and governmental foundations that made us great. You were trained up by liberal professors, most of whom have seen little of the world outside their classrooms. And now, you scratch your heads, wondering how you could have been so clueless. You spend endless television and radio hours interviewing not the typical Americans like me, but one another — asking what happened.
How would the person seated next to you in a New York City television studio know? Seriously, you should get out more.
*Duncan is a technologist and writer who lives and works in St. Louis, Missouri.
Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.
It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.
More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.
But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:
Cleaner aviation fuel
The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.
While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.
Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.
In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.
Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.
High-flying ambitions for the sector
Hydrogen and electrification
Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.
One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.
Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.
New aircraft designs
Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.
International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.
The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.
Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airportcommons.wikimedia.org
Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.
The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.
Data privacy issues
However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.
Auckland Airport, New Zealand
The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?
At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.
Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.
40% of Swedes intend to travel less
According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.
But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.
At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.
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