Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

Weekly Links, April 6, 2008

I probably should have been doing something else, but instead I spent a portion of my Saturday evening reading articles (until my friend finally managed to come out around midnight). Viola la récolte…

1.) Should the U.S. end its “aid” to Israel? In an article from the Information Clearing House, Alison Weir calculates:

since in Israel’s sixty years of existence, it has received more US tax money than any other nation on earth. During periods of recession, when Americans are thrown out of work, homes are repossessed, school budgets cut and businesses fail, Congress continues to give Israel massive amounts of our tax money; currently, about 7 million dollars per day.

On top of this, Egypt and Jordan receive large sums of money (per capita about 1/20th of what Israel receives) to buy their cooperation with Israel; and Palestinians also receive our tax money (about 1/23rd of that to Israel), to repair infrastructure that Israeli forces have destroyed, to fund humanitarian projects required due to the destruction wrought by Israel’s military, and to convince Palestinian officials to take actions beneficial to Israel. These sums should also be included in expenditures on behalf of Israel. When all are added together, it turns out that for many years over half of all US tax money abroad has been expended to benefit a country the size of New Jersey.

This is a heavy price tag. With the declining economy and an ever increasing national debt, it’s time that the United States questions its expenses: Is Israel a good investment? Is our money being spent in a justified and ethical manner (considering Israel’s use of destructive violence)?

2.) A Balanced National Budget? Forget it!

Cartoon from Natural News.

Mike Adams has a very colorful piece entitled The Forbidden Financial Topic: U.S. National Debt at Natural News in which he brings to light a topic so often ignored: the national debt. Adams says that the United States government “runs its finances like a crack addict.” What he

The United States government is broke. The only reason it’s been able to operate for this long is because other nations and foreign central banks have been foolish enough to keep lending the U.S. government more money. It’s like giving cash to a crack addict and hoping he will somehow seek out a drug rehab center on his own. […]

America is that drug addict. It borrows cash from the central banks around the world, blowing it all on Medicare prescription benefits signed into law by Bush (money for drugs, see?). It spends trillions on military campaigns that accomplish nothing positive, yet enrage the global community and recruit lifelong enemies of this nation. Notice how the price of oil has more than tripled since the war with Iraq started? It’s so bad now that truck drivers are going on strike over the price of diesel.

America spends money not merely like a drunken sailor, but like a crack-addicted sailor with a wheelbarrel piled high with one-hundred dollar bills, locked in a room full of Gov. Spitzer’s favorite hookers and a suitcase spilling over with blow.

For Adams, the collapse of the American economic system and policy is inevitable. As he explains:

Let me translate all this for you in serious terms: The United States is already broke. The Federal Reserve is destroying the currency. The U.S. dollar will soon be virtually worthless. There is no saving the dollar, and there’s no saving the savings of any U.S. citizen foolish enough to be holding dollars when the music stops. The Federal Reserve has already decided to do anything in its power to save the rich bankers; even if it means destroying the value of all the dollars held by hard-working Americans. The day will come, folks, when your savings accounts will all be “recalibrated” and you’ll be given ten cents on the dollar while the Fed slinks away with 90% of your savings, using it to bail out overpaid bank owners. […]

Likewise, when you see a nation throw its dollars into the air, spending its way to oblivion, ignoring its debt and ramping up its spending to even higher levels, it doesn’t take much of a prediction to know that it’s all going to fall back to the ground in a grand economic collapse.

So I’m not even calling the coming collapse of the U.S. government a “prediction.” It’s just common sense. It’s as obvious as gravity. If you don’t believe me, do the math. There is no mathematical solution to the current financial crisis facing not merely the banks and the currency, but the federal government itself. The only unknown factor is WHEN things will happen. Can the Fed help the economy limp along in a state of near-collapse for another year? Perhaps. Five years? Maybe. Ten years? I doubt it.

Adams “predicts” or, in his words, “observes” the collapse of the dollar and the U.S. government in turn. But accordingly he hopes that these mistakes will lead to a new society with an improved vision and plan to avoid similar problems in the world. I leave it to you to read his specific claims about what this future society should be like.

3.) Capping it off? It seems as though most of the world, included the U.S. is moving towards an economic policy to deal with global warming. But is an Emissions Cap enough? As a recent article in the New York Times entitled A Shift in the Debate Over Global Warming brings to light, more and more doubt is being placed in a purely economic solution, because as they argue an emissions cap needs to adjust to expanding growth in developing countries like India and China.

The economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, stated the case bluntly in a recent article in Scientific American: “Even with a cutback in wasteful energy spending, our current technologies cannot support both a decline in carbon dioxide emissions and an expanding global economy. If we try to restrain emissions without a fundamentally new set of technologies, we will end up stifling economic growth, including the development prospects for billions of people.”

What is needed, Mr. Sachs and others say, is the development of radically advanced low-carbon technologies, which they say will only come about with greatly increased spending by determined governments on what has so far been an anemic commitment to research and development. A Manhattan-like Project, so to speak.

An increasing number of people are promoting a policy for aggressive research and development in new technologies instead of simply waiting for the economic pressures to adjust the market. **

In short, what is needed, [Sach] said, is a “major overhaul of energy technology” financed by “large-scale public funding of research, development and demonstration projects.”

But who should be responsible for researching and developing these expensive new technologies?

At the same time, China and India continue to insist that economic growth is both their priority and right. They argue that the established economic powers should be responsible for spearheading the research to reduce carbon emissions. After all, the United States and Europe spent more than a century growing wealthy by burning fossil fuels.

Developing countries repeatedly made that point last week in Bangkok in the latest round of United Nations talks over the shape of a new climate agreement. But the United States rejected a proposal from China that 0.5 percent of the gross domestic product of industrialized countries be used to disseminate nonpolluting energy technologies.

In an article in Scientific American, Saches writes:

For that, we will need much more than a price on carbon. Consider three potentially transformative low-emissions technologies: carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), plug-in hybrid automobiles and concentrated solar-thermal electricity generation. Each will require a combination of factors to succeed: more applied scientific research, important regulatory changes, appropriate infrastructure, public acceptance and early high-cost investments to “ride the learning curve” to lower costs in the long term. A failure on one or more of these points could kill the technologies.

4.) Saving the world from fascism? Or continuing imperialism? Americans, myself included, are confused by our political status as an “empire.” In fact, I would go so far as to say that we are in denial of the fact that the United States is and has been an Empire. In an illuminating article entitled Empire or Humanity, Howard Zinn recounts the United States’ historical “journey” into and as an empire, a perspective not necessarily reflected in our classrooms or in our political and public discourse. With over “the existence of more than 700 American military bases outside of the United States” and:

With an occupying army waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan, with military bases and corporate bullying in every part of the world, there is hardly a question any more of the existence of an American Empire. Indeed, the once fervent denials have turned into a boastful, unashamed embrace of the idea.

One of the first moments of the US’s imperialism was the invasion of the Philippines, an island “halfway around the world.” According to Zinn, “[i]ndeed, that long, cruel war – treated quickly and superficially in the history books – gave rise to an Anti-Imperialist League, in which William James and Mark Twain were leading figures.”

Reading outside the classroom, however, I began to fit the pieces of history into a larger mosaic. What at first had seemed like a purely passive foreign policy in the decade leading up to the First World War now appeared as a succession of violent interventions: the seizure of the Panama Canal zone from Colombia, a naval bombardment of the Mexican coast, the dispatch of the Marines to almost every country in Central America, occupying armies sent to Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

At the very time I was learning this history – the years after World War II – the United States was becoming not just another imperial power, but the world’s leading superpower. Determined to maintain and expand its monopoly on nuclear weapons, it was taking over remote islands in the Pacific, forcing the inhabitants to leave, and turning the islands into deadly playgrounds for more atomic tests.

Then came the U.S.’s intervention in Korea and then Vietnam, which reflected less an attempt to stop the communist than “the desire of the United States to have a firm foothold on the continent of Asia, especially now that the Communists were in power in China.”

Various interventions following the U.S. defeat in Vietnam seemed to reflect the desperate need of the still-reigning superpower – even after the fall of its powerful rival, the Soviet Union – to establish its dominance everywhere. Hence the invasion of Grenada in 1982, the bombing assault on Panama in 1989, the first Gulf war of 1991. Was George Bush Sr. heartsick over Saddam Hussein’s seizure of Kuwait, or was he using that event as an opportunity to move U.S. power firmly into the coveted oil region of the Middle East? Given the history of the United States, given its obsession with Middle Eastern oil dating from Franklin Roosevelt’s 1945 deal with King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, and the CIA’s overthrow of the democratic Mossadegh government in Iran in 1953, it is not hard to decide that question.

Zinn ends his essay with a question of razor sharpness:

Have not the justifications for empire, embedded in our culture, assaulting our good sense – that war is necessary for security, that expansion is fundamental to civilization – begun to lose their hold on our minds? Have we reached a point in history where we are ready to embrace a new way of living in the world, expanding not our military power, but our humanity?

Video / Documentary of the Week:

Extraordinary People:
The Boy Who Sees Without Eyes

This piece examines the amazing abilities of a boy who lost his eyes to cancer but has amazingly taught himself to “see” through echolocation.

Quote of the Week:

“Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.”

  • Bill Gates