Opinion: France & Britain’s Poorly-Drawn Middle East Was Destined to Collapse

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Opening Lines:
John B. Judis of New Republic argues that the United States is powerless to combat the breaking up of nonsensical Middle East borders drawn nearly a hundred years ago by colonial powers. This collapse, he argues, is and has been quite inevitable:

What is happening is that the arrangements that the British and French created during and after World War I—which established the very existence of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan, and later contributed to the creation of Israel—are unraveling. Some of these states will survive in their present form, but others will not.

As Judis explains, the names Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine were affixed to territories formerly of the Ottoman Empire that were parsed out to Britain and France as spoils of World War I.

Full Synopsis Here: http://bigthink.com/ideafeed/france-and-britains-poorly-drawn-middle-east-was-destined-to-collapse

Full Article Here: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/118409/mideast-unravelling-and-theres-not-much-us-can-do

Ultimate Maps Post…and one chart

Countless Maps to teach us about our world!

HBR: Four Keys to Thinking About the Future

A publishing company has discovered that one of its well-known authors has plagiarized. The publisher has pulled the title. But does the publisher’s responsibility end there? Does one disclose the transgression to the public? Or to the author’s university employer? Or insist that the author do so him/herself?

Dilemmas are situations that require us to make a choice between equally unfavorable options.

I recall an instance as President and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) when I was informed by my security chief — he and I both held top secret security clearances — that one of our journalists had once worked undercover for a hostile intelligence service. Mind you, while the discovery was recent, this transgression had occurred years ago. The intelligence service (and regime) had since ceased to exist. In the meantime, the journalist in question had become a respected colleague. What to do with the fellow? Dismiss him? On what grounds? And to what effect inside the company?

Confronting ambiguity is one of the issues that came up time and again in a symposium I had the pleasure of convening recently with the Harvard Business Review and the Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study at the University of Southern California. The day-long symposium, called “The Next Big Thing: a Historical Approach to Thinking about the Future,” included a small, formidable mix of business leaders, technologists, historians, economists, defense experts, pollsters, and philosophers.

We all think about the future, but my first conclusion from this London gathering was that some people are better equipped than others to see it. Reflecting on the discussion, my own conclusion is that, if you want to become more prescient, you should do four things:

1. Enhance Your Power of Observation. For starters, be empirical and always be sure you’re working with the fullest data set possible when making judgments and discerning trends. Careful listening, a lost art in today’s culture of certitude and compulsive pontificating, can help us distinguish the signal from the noise.

In fact, read Nate Silver’s 2012 book, The Signal and the Noise : Why Most Predictions Fail – but Some Don’t. Also see psychologist Maria Konnikova’s 2013 Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. Drawing on recent research from psychology and neuroscience, Konnikova presents ways to sharpen one’s methods of observation and deductive reasoning. I also recommend the essay “The Power of Patience” in the current issue of Harvard Magazine. Art historian Jennifer L. Roberts has her students spend what appears at first to be an excruciatingly long period — three hours! — with a painting in a gallery. “It is commonly assumed,” observes Roberts, “that vision is immediate. … But what students learn in a visceral way in this assignment is that in any work of art there are details and orders and relationships that take time to perceive.” Ditto in any shifting business environment.

2. Appreciate the Value of Being (a Little) Asocial. I had a colleague once, a distinguished China scholar, who eschewed conferences and professional gatherings. His logic was simple. He was convinced that this otherwise entirely pleasant socializing and socialization led invariably to a kind of groupthink among the community of experts. “Thinking outside the box,” is one of the most well-worn clichés in any business or creative endeavor. We all prize it. Yet how do you actually do it, when life and livelihood generally depend on operating inside a box?

I’m convinced that a company culture that encourages curiosity is vitally important. Read the essay by Rutgers historian James Delbourgo in The Chronicle of Higher Education on “Triumph of the Strange” and Brian Dillon’s volume of essays titled Curiosity: Art and the Pleasures of Knowing.Curiosity keeps us learning and helps us, like the virtue of patience, to see the hidden, or understand the unexplained.

3. Study History. Do this not because history repeats itself, but because history often rhymes, as Mark Twain put it. The rhymes may be about social patterns, the impact of technology, or how nations tend to adapt. Charles Emmerson of Chatham House was a member of our roundtable. He’s the author of 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War, a recent book that depicts a civilization a century ago that was interconnected and fragmented, cosmopolitan and chauvinistic, prosperous, decadent, and in danger of decline. It sounds similar to the situation of the West today.

I think you study history to study human nature, the human condition, and human behavior. This is the realm of patterns, but also — frustratingly and fascinatingly — of infinite complexity and unpredictability. Apart from the intrinsic beauty, power, and simple enjoyment, it’s why reading great fiction is to be commended. HBR writers have more than once made the business case for reading literature. Training in emotional intelligence is life-long work, and most of us need as many tutors as possible.

4. Learn to Deal with Ambiguity. A banker in our group emphasized the importance of this. Whether it’s nature or nurture, most of us seem hard-wired to sort the world into simple binary choices. Alas, there’s often lots of grey out there. I’m not sure what the publisher ended up doing in the case I cited at the outset. Nor am I at liberty to reveal my own decision regarding that former intelligence officer. But those are matters of the past anyway. Thinking about the future, here’s a final reading tip. It’s the 1992 novel Einstein’s Dreams by MIT physicist Alan Lightman. I’m fond of this passage:

In this world, time has three dimensions, like space. Just as an object may move in three perpendicular directions, corresponding to horizontal, vertical, and longitudinal, so an object may participate in three perpendicular futures. Each future moves in a different direction of time. Each future is real. At every point of decision, the world splits into three worlds, each with the same people, but different fates for those people. In time, there are an infinity of worlds.

Consciously attempt to act on these four pieces of advice and I think you can only get better at anticipating the big things (and small things) that will come next.

Of course, the wisest among us will always hedge our forecasts with qualifiers such as “will likely” or “is apt to.” Life is seldom linear and best estimates frequently become undermined by those eternal “unknown unknowns.”  But don’t let them stop you from preparing for an uncertain future by learning more from the past and present. Think long, think deep, think laterally — and brace yourself. 2014 is nearly upon us.

 

Jeffrey Gedmin is President and CEO of the Legatum Institute in London. Prior to joining in 2011, he spent four years as President and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, where he oversaw the company’s strategy and broadcast operations in 22 countries.

A New Map Reveals the Geography of American TV News

The visualization shows a world unevenly aglow with television attention.
 DEC 17 2013, 12:42 PM ET

Using the Archive’s massive archive of television news, Georgetown scholar Kalev Leetaru tracked all the locations mentioned on U.S. television news between June 2009 and October 2013, then plotted them on a world map.

On the foundation’s blog, archivist Roger Macdonald writes that the map constitutes the “first large-scale glimpses of the geography of American television news, beginning to reveal which areas receive outsized attention and which are neglected.”

FULL STORY HERE: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/12/a-new-map-reveals-the-geography-of-american-tv-news/282443/

10 Sustainable Business Stories (from 2013) Too Important to Miss

by Andrew Winston  |   12:00 PM December 17, 2013

Somehow it’s already year-end, a time to look back and try to make sense of what’s happened. Creating any “top” list of stories from 12 months is nearly impossible. But as I’ve done for the last 4 years, I’ll attempt to summarize some of the latest stories about the big environmental and social pressures on business, and how some innovative companies are dealing with them.

This year, like recent years, saw some continuation of big trends: with a few exceptions, the international policy community keeps failing to come to a meaningful agreement on climate change;carbon emissions just keep risingtransparency is increasingly unavoidable and keeps gaining technology-enabled traction; pressure from big companies on their suppliers keeps going up.

So what’s really new this year? Let’s dive in.

FULL STORY HERE: http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/12/2013-in-sustainability-the-year-business-got-off-the-sidelines/?utm_source=Socialflow&utm_medium=Tweet&utm_campaign=Socialflow

Political Parties at War: A Study of American War Finance, 1789–2010

Authors: Sarah Kreps, Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow, and Gustavo A. Flores-Macias
Vol. 107, No. 4 November 2013
The American Political Science Review

Synopsis from the Council on Foreign Relations:

What determines when states adopt war taxes to finance the cost of conflict? We address this question with a study of war taxes in the United States between 1789 and 2010. Using logit estimation of the determinants of war taxes, an analysis of roll-call votes on war tax legislation,
and a historical case study of the Civil War, we provide evidence that partisan fiscal differences account for whether the United States finances its conflicts through war taxes or opts for alternatives such as borrowing or expanding the money supply. Because the fiscal policies implemented to raise the revenues for war have considerable and often enduring redistributive impacts, war finance—in particular, war taxation—becomes a high-stakes political opportunity to advance the fiscal interests of core constituencies. Insofar as the alternatives to taxation shroud the actual costs of war, the findings have important implications for democratic accountability and the conduct of conflict.

FULL STORY & FREE DOWNLOAD HERE: http://www.cfr.org/wars-and-warfare/political-parties-war-study-american-war-finance-17892010/p32074?cid=rss-fullfeed-political_parties_at_war__a_st-121313

Hyacinth Mascarenhas: 21 Images of Where Children Sleep Around the World Paints a Powerful Picture of Inequality

AMAZING FULL STORY WITH IMAGES HERE: http://www.policymic.com/articles/75173/21-images-of-where-children-sleep-around-the-world-paints-a-powerful-picture-of-inequality
21, images, of, where, children, sleep, around, the, world, paints, a, powerful, picture, of, inequality,
21 Images of Where Children Sleep Around the World Paints a Powerful Picture of Inequality
Image Credit: MyModernNet

“As a child, that’s your little space within the house,” said James Mollison, a Kenyan-born, England-raised, Venice-based photographer whose 2011 photo book, Where Children Sleep draws attention to a child’s “material and cultural circumstances” and offers a remarkable view on class, poverty, and the diversity of children around the world.

After spending more than three years traveling the world from Senegal to Tokyo, Mollison’s series include portraits of children in front of a white background accompanied by a single snapshot of their bedrooms, leaving the later to speak volumes about their the social and cultural circumstances that contribute to their lifestyle.

“I hope the book gives a a glimpse into the lives some children are living in very diverse situations around the world; a chance to reflect on the inequality that exists, and realize just how lucky most of us in the developed world are,” said Mollison.

Documenting his series in a book called Where Children Sleep, these striking images range from a mattress outside Rome to a bedroom filled with crowns and sashes. The book was, interestingly enough, written and designed for 9 to 13 year olds to learn about and better understand the diversity and disparity among children in the world. However, it has also proven to be an important photography series for adults. It’s not just as an empathy tool; it’s an insightful commentary on poverty, privilege, and human rights.

Top 25 Informative Maps That Teach Us Something Uniquely Different About the World

Found at: http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/top-25-informative-maps-that-you-ll-never-forget

Population of Southeast Asia Compared to the Rest of the World

Maps can be great guides for more than just finding routes for traveling. They often provide insight on the rest of the world. Taking a look at certain maps can be incredibly informative, especially when comparing the standing of countries in relation to one another. In fact, many passionate cartographers take pride in creating maps that present relevant knowledge through a visual medium.

Whether they’re on topics concerning population density, educational level, or even a gauge of internet usage across the world, each serves a purpose of sharing data to enlighten minds. Most people aren’t constantly traveling and immersing themselves into the practices of multiple nations, so a statistically informed map can help us all learn more about how we compare to the people of a country on the opposite end of Earth.

An ever-growing collection of informative maps are available through ChartsBinTarget Map, and theMapPorn subreddit. There’s also a wonderfully curated list over on Twisted Sifter. Here’s our roundup of the top 25 informative maps that you’ll never forget.

Top map: reddit

Countries That Do Not Officially Use the Metric System

Wikimedia

Frequency of Lightning Strikes Around the World

Citynoise

Worldwide Driving Orientation by Country

Benjamin D. Esham

World’s Population Evenly Divided into 7 Regions, Each with 1 Billion People

All That is Interesting

The Longest Straight Line You Can Sail on Earth

reddit

Most Used Web Browser by Country

Vlad III Tepes

World Internet Usage by Time of Day

Carna Botnet

Worldwide Annual Coffee Consumption Per Capita

ChartsBin

Daily Fat Intake Per Capita

ChartsBin

Most Popular Spectator Sports in the World

Target Map

Most Consumed Alcoholic Beverages by Country

World Health Organization

Total Worldwide Adult Alcohol Consumption

World Health Organization

National IQ Scores

Target Map

Areas with Highest Income and College Education Level in the US

The Washington Post

Number of Researchers Per Million Inhabitants by Country

ChartsBin

Interactive Map of the World’s Shrinking Forests

Wired

Currently Married Population Around the World

ChartsBin

Average Age of First Sexual Intercourse by Country

ChartsBin

Gender Inequality Index Based on Reproductive Health, Empowerment, and Labor Market

ChartsBin

Paid Maternity Leave: Almost Everywhere

The New York Times

World Level of Happiness by Country

Roketjack

Global Median Age

ChartsBin

Worldwide Oil Import and Export Flows

BP

Satellite Map of Earth Over the Course of One Year

Pope Francis Denounces Trickle-Down Economics

Originally found here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/11/26/pope-francis-denounces-trickle-down-economics/

VATICAN: POPE FRANCESCO MEETS CARDINALS

Original Text: Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium of the Holy Father Fancis

Washington Post Article Commentary:

Pope Francis has released a sharply worded take on capitalism and the world’s treatment of its poor, criticizing “trickle-down” economic policies in no uncertain terms.

In the first lengthy writing of his papacy — also known as an “apostolic exhortation” — Francis says such economic theories naively rely on the goodness of those in charge and create a “tyranny” of the markets.

“In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” the pope wrote. “This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”

 

While popes have often warned against the negative impact of the markets, Francis’s verbiage is note-worthy because of its use of the phrase “trickle-down” — a term that came into popular usage as a description for former president Ronald Reagan’s economic policies. While the term is often used pejoratively, it describes an economic theory that remains popular with conservatives in the United States today.

The theory holds that policies benefiting the wealthiest segment of society will also help the poor, by allowing money to “trickle down” from the top income levels into the lower ones. Critics, including President Obama, say the policies, usually focused on tax cuts and credits that primarily benefit upper-income Americans, concentrate wealth in the highest income levels and that the benefits rarely trickle down to the extent proponents suggest.

In his exhortation, the pope also attacked economic inequality, suggesting Christians have a duty to combat it to comply with the Ten Commandments — specifically the prohibition on killing.

“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality,” the pope wrote. “Such an economy kills.”

The pope also likened the worship of money to the biblical golden calf.

“We have created new idols,” Francis wrote. “The worship of the ancient golden calf … has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”

The pope also attacks “consumerism”: “It is evident that unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric.”

RAGHAVA KK: I Promise to Bias My Children with as Many Perspectives as Possible

Originally posted at: http://bigthink.com/in-their-own-words/i-promise-to-bias-my-children-with-as-many-perspectives-as-possible

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I come from an extremely traditional South Indian family.  I was tucked into bed with engineering books, Russian engineering books.  I was told that I am going to become an engineer.  But, you know, I wanted to become a cartoonist.

So in a sense I negotiated with my dad.  I remember he was having his favorite whiskey and I said, “Pop, what’s the purpose of education?”  And he became really emotional and he said, “You know, education was highjacked by the industrial revolution.”  And he gave me a list of six reasons why education is important.

He said it’s good citizenship.  You have to learn how to learn.  It’s about curiosity.  It’s about working hard.  It’s about discipline.  He made a whole bunch of good reasons, arguments for education.  So I came back to him a couple of months later and I said, “Pop, I’ve agreed with you on everything you’ve said and I am going to do all of this.  Can I quit formal education?  Can I do this by myself?”

It was a bit of a shock to him but he let me quit school and become a cartoonist.  But one of the agreements was that I’m emotionally and financially independent of my family because that’s a part of the whole education process.

So I had to go out there into the real world from this little protected bubble and try to find my own voice.  And in doing that I realized that there are different kinds of families.  I hitchhiked.  I backpacked.  I stayed with different kinds of people.  And I learned that moms can have tattoos.  Dads can be moms.  Moms can be dads.  And anything can happen and still you can have a loving family.

That’s when I decided that when I have children I’m going to promise to bias them with as many perspectives as possible as opposed to just biasing them with my little understanding of the world.  And with this I realized that my art was being a little didactic.  I felt the need to incorporate this sort of learning in my art.

Surviving Climate Change: Is a Green Energy Revolution on the Global Agenda? By Michael T. Klare

Originally posted at: http://aep.typepad.com/american_empire_project/2013/11/surviving-climate-change.html

A week after the most powerful “super typhoon” ever recorded pummeled the Philippines, killing thousands in a single province, and three weeks after the northern Chinese city of Harbin suffered a devastating “airpocalypse,” suffocating the city with coal-plant pollution, government leaders beware!  Although individual events like these cannot be attributed with absolute certainty to increased fossil fuel use and climate change, they are the type of disasters that, scientists tell us, will become a pervasive part of life on a planet being transformed by the massive consumption of carbon-based fuels.  If, as is now the case, governments across the planet back an extension of the carbon age and ever increasing reliance on “unconventional” fossil fuels like tar sands and shale gas, we should all expect trouble.  In fact, we should expect mass upheavals leading to a green energy revolution.

None of us can predict the future, but when it comes to a mass rebellion against the perpetrators of global destruction, we can see a glimmer of the coming upheaval in events of the present moment.  Take a look and you will see that the assorted environmental protests that have long bedeviled politicians are gaining in strength and support.  With an awareness of climate change growing and as intensifying floodsfiresdroughts, and storms become an inescapable feature of daily life across the planet, more people are joining environmental groups and engaging in increasingly bold protest actions.  Sooner or later, government leaders are likely to face multiple eruptions of mass public anger and may, in the end, be forced to make radical adjustments in energy policy or risk being swept aside.

In fact, it is possible to imagine such a green energy revolution erupting in one part of the world and spreading like wildfire to others.  Because climate change is going to inflict increasingly severe harm on human populations, the impulse to rebel is only likely to gain in strength across the planet.  While circumstances may vary, the ultimate goal of these uprisings will be to terminate the reign of fossil fuels while emphasizing investment in and reliance upon renewable forms of energy.  And a success in any one location is bound to invite imitation in others.

A wave of serial eruptions of this sort would not be without precedent.  In the early years of twentieth-first century, for example, one government after another in disparate parts of the former Soviet Union was swept away in what were called the “color revolutions” — populist upheavals against old-style authoritarian regimes.  These included the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia (2003), the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine (2004), and the “Pink” or “Tulip Revolution” in Kyrgyzstan (2005).  In 2011, a similar wave of protests erupted in North Africa, culminating in what we call the Arab Spring.

Like these earlier upheavals, a “green revolution” is unlikely to arise from a highly structured political campaign with clearly identified leaders.   In all likelihood, it will erupt spontaneously, after a cascade of climate-change induced disasters provokes an outpouring of public fury.  Once ignited, however, it will undoubtedly ratchet up the pressure for governments to seek broad-ranging, systemic transformations of their energy and climate policies.  In this sense, any such upheaval — whatever form it takes — will prove “revolutionary” by seeking policy shifts of such magnitude as to challenge the survival of incumbent governments or force them to enact measures with transformative implications.

Foreshadowings of such a process can already be found around the globe.  Take the mass environmental protests that erupted in Turkey this June.  Though sparked by a far smaller concern than planetary devastation via climate change, for a time they actually posed a significant threat to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his governing party.  Although his forces eventually succeeded in crushing the protests — leaving four dead, 8,000 injured, and 11 blinded by tear-gas canisters — his reputation as a moderate Islamist was badly damaged by the episode.

Like so many surprising upheavals on this planet, the Turkish uprising had the most modest of beginnings: on May 27th, a handful of environmental activists blocked bulldozers sent by the government to level Gezi Park, a tiny oasis of greenery in the heart of Istanbul, and prepare the way for the construction of an upscale mall.  The government responded to this small-scale, non-violent action by sending in riot police and clearing the area, a move that enraged many Turks and prompted tens of thousands of them to occupy nearby Taksim Square.  This move, in turn, led to an even more brutal police crackdown and then to huge demonstrations in Istanbul and around the country.  In the end, mass protests erupted in 70 cities, the largest display of anti-government sentiment since Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party came to power in 2002.

This was, in the most literal sense possible, a “green” revolution, ignited by the government’s assault on the last piece of greenery in central Istanbul.  But once the police intervened in full strength, it became a wide-ranging rebuke to Erdogan’s authoritarian impulses and his drive to remake the city as a neo-Ottoman showplace — replete with fancy malls and high-priced condominiums — while eliminating poor neighborhoods and freewheeling public spaces like Taksim Square.  “It’s all about superiority, and ruling over the people like sultans,” declared one protestor.  It’s not just about the trees in Gezi Park,said another: “We are here to stand up against those who are trying to make a profit from our land.”

The Ningbo Rebellion

The same trajectory of events — a small-scale environmental protest evolving into a full-scale challenge to governmental authority — can be seen in other mass protests of recent years.

Take a Chinese example: in October 2012, students and middle class people joined with poor farmers to protest the construction of an $8.8 billion petrochemical facility in Ningbo, a city of 3.4 million people south of Shanghai.  In a country where environmental pollution has reached nearly unprecedented levels, these protests were touched off by fears that the plant, to be built by the state-owned energy company Sinopec with local government support, would produce paraxylene, a toxic substance used in plastics, paints, and cleaning solvents.

Here, too, the initial spark that led to the protests was small-scale.  On October 22nd, some 200 farmers obstructed a road near the district government’s office in an attempt to block the plant’s construction.  After the police were called in to clear the blockade, students from nearby Ningbo University joined the protests.  Using social media, the protestors quickly enlisted support from middle-class residents of the city who converged in their thousands on downtown Ningbo.  When riot police moved in to break up the crowds, the protestors fought back, attacking police cars and throwing bricks and water bottles.  While the police eventually gained the upper hand after several days of pitched battles, the Chinese government concluded that mass action of this sort, occurring in the heart of a major city and featuring an alliance of students, farmers, and young professionals, was too great a threat.  After five days of fighting, the government gave in, announcing the cancellation of the petrochemical project.

The Ningbo demonstrations were hardly the first such upheavals to erupt in China.  They did, however, highlight a growing governmental vulnerability to mass environmental protest.  For decades, the reigning Chinese Communist Party has justified its monopolistic hold on power by citing its success in generating rapid economic growth.  But that growth means the use of ever more fossil fuels and petrochemicals, which, in turn, means increased carbon emissions and disastrous atmospheric pollution, including one “airpocalypse” after another.

Until recently, most Chinese seemed to accept such conditions as the inevitable consequences of growth, but it seems that tolerance of environmental degradation is rapidly diminishing.  As a result, the party finds itself in a terrible bind: it can slow development as a step toward cleaning up the environment, incurring a risk of growing economic discontent, or it can continue its growth-at-all-costs policy, and find itself embroiled in a firestorm of Ningbo-style environmental protests.

This dilemma — the environment versus the economy — has proven to be at the heart of similar mass eruptions elsewhere on the planet.

After Fukushima

Two of the largest protests of this sort were sparked by the reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants on March 11, 2011, after a massive tsunami struck northern Japan.  In both of these actions — the first in Germany, the second in Japan — the future of nuclear power and the survival of governments were placed in doubt.

The biggest protests occurred in Germany.  On March 26th, 15 days after the Fukushima explosions, an estimated 250,000 people participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations across the country — 100,000 in Berlin, and up to 40,000 each in Hamburg, Munich, and Cologne.  “Today’s demonstrations are just the prelude to a new, strong, anti-nuclear movement,” declared Jochen Stay, a protest leader.  “We’re not going to let up until the plants are finally mothballed.”

At issue was the fate of Germany’s remaining nuclear power plants.  Although touted as an attractive alternative to fossil fuels, nuclear power is seen by most Germans as a dangerous and unwelcome energy option.  Several months prior to Fukushima, German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted that Germany would keep its 17 operating reactors until 2040, allowing a smooth transition from the country’s historic reliance on coal to renewable energy for generating electricity.  Immediately after Fukushima, she ordered a temporary shutdown of Germany’s seven oldest reactors for safety inspections but refused to close the others, provoking an outpouring of protest.

Witnessing the scale of the demonstrations, and after suffering an electoral defeat in the key state of Baden-Württemberg, Merkel evidently came to the conclusion that clinging to her position would be the equivalent of political suicide.  On May 30th, she announced that the seven reactors undergoing inspections would be closed permanently and the remaining 10 would be phased out by 2022, almost 20 years earlier than in her original plan.

By all accounts, the decision to phase out nuclear power almost two decades early will have significant repercussions for the German economy.  Shutting down the reactors and replacing them with wind and solar energy will cost an estimated $735 billion and take several decades, producing soaring electricity bills and periodic energy shortages.  However, such is the strength of anti-nuclear sentiment in Germany that Merkel felt she had no choice but to close the reactors anyway.

The anti-nuclear protests in Japan occurred considerably later, but were no less momentous.  On July 16, 2012, 16 months after the Fukushima disaster, an estimated 170,000 people assembled in Tokyo to protest a government plan to restart the country’s nuclear reactors, idled after the disaster.  This was not only Japan’s largest antinuclear demonstration in many years, but the largest of any sort to occur in recent memory.

For the government, the July 16th action was particularly significant. Prior to Fukushima, most Japanese had embraced the country’s growing reliance on nuclear power, putting their trust in the government to ensure its safety.  After Fukushima and the disastrous attempts of the reactors’ owner, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), to deal with the situation, public support for nuclear power plummeted.  As it became increasingly evident that the government had mishandled the crisis, people lost faith in its ability to exercise effective control over the nuclear industry.  Repeated promises that nuclear reactors could be made safe lost all credibility when it became known that government officials had long collaborated with TEPCO executives in covering up safety concerns at Fukushima and, once the meltdowns occurred, inconcealing information about the true scale of the disaster and its medical implications.

The July 16th protest and others like it should be seen as a public vote against the government’s energy policy and oversight capabilities.  “Japanese have not spoken out against the national government,” said one protestor, a 29-year-old homemaker who brought her one-year-old son.  “Now, we have to speak out, or the government will endanger us all.”

Skepticism about the government, rare for twenty-first-century Japan, has proved a major obstacle to its desire to restart the country’s 50 idled reactors.  While most Japanese oppose nuclear power, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe remains determined to get the rectors running again in order to reduce Japan’s heavy reliance on imported energy and promote economic growth.  “I think it is impossible to promise zero [nuclear power plants] at this stage,” he declaredthis October.  “From the government’s standpoint, [nuclear plants] are extremely important for a stable energy supply and economic activities.”

Despite such sentiments, Abe is finding it extremely difficult to garner support for his plans, and it is doubtful that significant numbers of those reactors will be coming online anytime soon.

The Explosions Ahead

What these episodes tell us is that people around the world are becoming ever more concerned about energy policy as it affects their lives and are prepared — often on short notice — to engage in mass protests.  At the same time, governments globally, with rare exceptions, are deeply wedded to existing energy policies.  These almost invariably turn them into targets, no matter what the original spark for mass opposition.  As the results of climate change become ever more disruptive, government officials will find themselves repeatedly choosing between long-held energy plans and the possibility of losing their grip on power.

Because few governments are as yet prepared to launch the sorts of efforts that might even begin to effectively address the peril of climate change, they will increasingly be seen as obstacles to essential action and so as entities that need to be removed.  In short, climate rebellion — spontaneous protests that may at any moment evolve into unquenchable mass movements — is on the horizon.  Faced with such rebellions, recalcitrant governments will respond with some combination of accommodation to popular demands and harsh repression.

Many governments will be at risk from such developments, but the Chinese leadership appears to be especially vulnerable.  The ruling party has staked its future viability on an endless carbon-fueled growth agenda that is steadily destroying the country’s environment.  It has already faced half-a-dozen environmental upheavals like the one in Ningbo, and has responded to them byagreeing to protestors’ demands or by employing brute force.  The question is: How long can this go on?

Environmental conditions are bound to worsen, especially as China continues to rely on coal for home heating and electrical power, and yet there is no indication that the ruling Communist Party is prepared to take the radical steps required to significantly reduce domestic coal consumption.  This translates into the possibility of mass protests erupting at any time and on a potentially unprecedented scale.  And these, in turn, could bring the Party’s very survival into question — a scenario guaranteed to produce immense anxiety among the country’s top leaders.

And what about the United States?  At this point, it would be ludicrous to say that, as a result of popular disturbances, the nation’s political leadership is at any risk of being swept away or even forced to take serious steps to scale back reliance on fossil fuels.  There are, however, certainly signs of a growing nationwide campaign against aspects of fossil fuel reliance, including vigorous protests against hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

For environmental activist and writer Bill McKibben, all this adds up to an incipient mass movement against the continued consumption of fossil fuels.  “In the last few years,” he has written, this movement “has blocked the construction of dozens of coal-fired power plants, fought the oil industry to a draw on the Keystone pipeline, convinced a wide swath of American institutions to divest themselves of their fossil fuel stocks, and challenged practices like mountaintop-removal coal mining and fracking for natural gas.”  It may not have achieved the success of the drive for gay marriage, he observed, but it “continues to grow quickly, and it’s starting to claim some victories.”

If it’s still too early to gauge the future of this anti-carbon movement, it does seem, at least, to be gaining momentum.  In the 2013 elections, for example, three cities in energy-rich Colorado — Boulder, Fort Collins, and Lafayette —voted to ban or place moratoriums on fracking within their boundaries, while protests against Keystone XL and similar projects are on the rise.

Nobody can say that a green energy revolution is a sure thing, but who can deny that energy-oriented environmental protests in the U.S. and elsewhere have the potential to expand into something far greater?  Like China, the United States will experience genuine damage from climate change and its unwavering commitment to fossil fuels in the years ahead.  Americans are not, for the most part, passive people.  Expect them, like the Chinese, to respond to these perils with increased ire and a determination to alter government policy.

So don’t be surprised if that green energy revolution erupts in your neighborhood as part of humanity’s response to the greatest danger we’ve ever faced.  If governments won’t take the lead on an imperiled planet, someone will.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and conflict studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left.  A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation.

Dean Baker: Want ‘free trade’? Open the medical and drug industry to competition

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/11/support-real-free-trade-medical-costs

Agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership distribute wealth upward. Real ‘free trade’ can lower medical costs for everyone.

Free trade is like apple pie, everyone is supposed to like it. Economists have written thousands of books and articles showing how everyone can gain from reducing trade barriers. While there is much merit to this argument, little of it applies to the trade pacts that are sold as “free-trade” agreements.

These deals are about structuring trade to redistribute income upward. In addition these agreements also provide a mechanism for over-riding the democratic process in the countries that are parties to the deals. They are a tool whereby corporate interests can block health, safety, and environmental regulations that might otherwise be implemented by democratically elected officials. This is the story with both the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) now being negotiated by General Electric, Merck and other major corporations who have been invited to the table, as well as the EU-US trade agreement.

But trade agreements don’t have to be designed to make the rich richer. It is possible to envision trade deals that actually would liberalize trade.Nafta and it successors were designed to push down the wages of manufacturing workers by making it as easy as possible to set up operations overseas. This put US steelworkers and autoworkers in direct competition with the low-wage workers in the developing world, pushing down wages of manufacturing workers in the United States, and by reducing the number of manufacturing jobs, the wages of less educated workers more generally.

This is all very simple and straightforward. But suppose that instead of designing trade deals to give us cheaper manufacturing workers we designed trade deals to give us cheaper doctors. In the United States wepay our doctors almost twice as much as the average in other wealthy countries, and almost three times as much as in countries like Sweden or Norway. Suppose we structured a trade deal to get our doctors’ pay in line with pay in other wealthy countries.

If we could save an average of $100,000 per doctor, this would translate to savings of roughly $85bn a year, which would come to more than $1tn over the next decade. Throw in dentists and a few other highly paid professions and we would be talking real money. Just the savings on doctors’ pay would come to more than $12,000 for an average family of four over ten years. This dwarfs the potential gains that are projected even by supporters of the trade agreements now being negotiated.

But we can be sure that freer trade in physicians’ services will not be on the agenda in these trade deals. While the United States brings in Stem workers, nurses, and even teachers from other countries in order to keep their wages down in the United States, no one in a policy position will talk about doing the same with doctors.

The reason is very simple: doctors have lots of money and power. Roughly a third of them can be found in the top 1%, and nearly all would be in the top 3% of the income distribution.

Of course, trade can be used to bring down prices in other areas as well. The United States pays close to twice as much for its prescription drugs as people in other wealthy countries. This is the deliberate result of a patent policy that gives unchecked monopolies to drug companies for decades. In contrast, every other wealthy country couples patent monopolies with price controls, negotiated prices or some other policy that limits the extent to which drug companies can exploit their monopoly.

The United States could simply change its patent policy, but with that route being politically blocked, it could in principle use free trade to bring about the same result. With the country spending over $300bn a year on drugs at present, the potential gains here also could be well over $1tn over the course of a decade.

The industry will claim that lower drug prices will hurt the incentive to develop new drugs, but we can switch to more modern and efficient methods for financing research. By raising prices by tens or even hundreds of times above their free market price, drug patents create the same sort of distortions and waste that we would expect from tariffs of several thousand percent. It’s not hard to envision a system that leads to less waste and corruption.

There are many other areas where trade could, in principle, be used to bring about gains for large segments of the US population as well as its trading partners. Unfortunately, we are not likely to see trade agreements that will produce such broad gains. This has nothing to do with trade per se, it has due to with the fact that these trade deals are developed and negotiated by corporate interests for corporate interests.

With the drug companies sitting at the negotiating table at the TPP, does anyone think the deal will actually lower drug prices? Do we expect good rules regulating fracking when the oil and gas industries are writing them? And will the big banks working on the financial section produce good rules for regulating finance?

Yes, free trade can benefit the country as a whole. But the trade deals we will see in the next year have nothing to do with free trade, they are just one more item on the agenda for redistributing wealth upward.

Denver Post: Solar Panels are sprouting on business rooftops across the US

 

Mark Jaffe:

The falling cost of solar installation – cut almost in half in the last decade – is making solar an appealing economic choice for some companies, the report said.

“For many companies,  costs represent the single largest operating expense,” the report said. “The continued fall in solar system prices and the adoption of innovative financing models that can reduce up-front costs allow companies that have deployed solar to dramatically reduce energy expenditures. In a growing number of markets, companies can either generate or purchase solar energy at or below local retail  rates, saving businesses money from “Day 1.”

Whole story here:

http://blogs.denverpost.com/thebalancesheet/2013/10/18/solar-panels/11074/

Tracking Human Slavery…in 2013

shutterstock_146428322

 

Check out this brief article from BigThink, or click on the second link to view the whole article from The Christian Science Monitor

http://bigthink.com/ideafeed/a-new-index-tracks-human-slavery-around-the-world

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/2013/1018/Hardly-a-relic-slavery-thrives-in-many-corners-of-the-world

The article index, which is a interactive map, is available here: http://www.globalslaveryindex.org/

The Naivete and Danger of Opposing Pipelines (and other forms of modern technology)

OCTOBER 14, 2013, 10:30 AM

   PIPELINES!!!!! Evil! Dangerous! Huge threats to the environment! MUST BE OPPOSED! Could there be a clearer example of how naïve and simplistic we’ve become about the harms of modern technology, blinding us to the benefits of these technologies and the tradeoffs they always involve. This knee-jerk Back to the Cave (okay, back to the cabin in the woods) romanticism of an earlier less industrial time and rejection of modern technology is getting not only a little extreme. It’s getting dangerous.

Yes, pipelines do sometimes leak. Yes, they do sometimes explode. But of course, mostly, they don’t. Mostly they just quietly carry the oil and natural gas that are quite literally the lifeblood of modern life, the fluids that turn on the lights, heat our homes and schools and offices, run our motor vehicles, power our factories, and produce a immense range of petrochemical-based products. Here is a map of the arteries – oops, I mean the pipelines – carrying  natural gas in the U.S. at the moment. Most of them have been operating for decades, mostly without incident.ngpipelines_map

There is no question that the recovery, transport, and especially the use of fossil fuels has done and continues to do egregious harm to the environment. But opposing the pipelines that carry them, which has become a de facto position one must hold to be a true environmentalist, is Quixotically naive, sort of like blaming the road for car crashes or your faucet for delivering water from a contaminated source. No roads would mean no crashes. No faucets would mean no contaminated water. But how obviously foolish it is to think so simplistically, and how dangerous.

Dangerous, because the opposition to pipelines is really about something much larger. It is really opposition to what they represent. It’s the same as opposition to power transmission lines, even the ones needed to carry renewable wind and solar and hydro energy from where the wind blows and the sun shines and the water flows, to where the people are. It’s the same as opposition to fracking, to genetically modified food, to nuclear power, to industrial chemicals. It’s a BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anytime Near Anything) rejection of modern technology generally. It’s a naive Bill McKibben-esque cry that modern human life has essentially meant The End of Nature. You know, pure nature, the real kind, the true kind, the unspoiled kind that was around before we mucked it all up.

That romantic idea, that the human species and all we do – good and bad – are not part of nature, is indeed quite dangerous, not only because it’s ridiculously naïve but because it rejects out of hand all the ways that human technology can help, as well as harm. Fracking, when done carefully and safely, harvests a fossil fuel that emits only half the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide that coal does. Nuclear power, which poses risks from radiation that are nowhere near as threatening as common fears assume (seeWhy Are We Afraid of Nuclear Power), emits none (no particulate pollution either). Solar farms may indeed have negative effects on desert tortoises or other species that live in wide open sunny places, but they supply energy in a way that obviates the need for fossil fuels and their evil pipelines. Wind farms do too, even if they require cutting down some trees and they kill some birds and they stick out like sore thumbs in those pretty Vermont hills.

Power transmission lines can not only bring renewable energy to the end users, but smart grid technology can do so in ways that make energy use far more efficient. But such arguments fall on deaf ears to some in northern New England opposing the Northern Pass project to bring hydro power from northern Quebec down to the northeast energy market. Opponent’s signs in New Hampshire, the ‘Live Free or Die’ state, say things live “Live Free or Fry”. Cute, but climate change will produce a lot more frying than power lines.

Biotechnology (genetic modification) offers enormous potential to feed a hungry world and develop species that can deal with climate change, but environmentalists oppose it. They oppose food irradiation too (low doses kill the living germs in the food but don’t change the food), even though it can reduce millions of cases of food-borne illness. Industrial chemicals, perhaps the ultimate automatic enviro-bogeyman, help produce most of the physical products of modern life. Without them you wouldn’t have the device on which you are reading this, and a whole lot of other stuff.

Yes, industrial chemicals do harm, and we should be more cautious than we have been. Yes, pipelines leak. Yes, wind and solar farms and power line rights-of-way kill trees and birds and desert turtles. And yes, such industrial facilities look a whole lot uglier than the natural environment that’s there before the bulldozers and chain saws show up.

But as emotionally appealing as a love for a purer, cleaner, less despoiled natural world may feel, it naively ignores current human reality; we’re here, we’re a species that is part of the biosphere, and we are in deep trouble because of the damage we’ve done to that biosphere. Our intelligence has helped produce that damage, but it has also produced some of the most dramatic gains in the quality of life humans have ever known. How ignorant it would be to ignore those gains and focus only on the harms, and, going forward, to reject what our intelligence has provided, the tools and technologies that can help us solve at least some of the problems we face.

What Combat Feels Like

What Combat Feels Like, Presented in the Style of a Graphic Novel

An animated film based on a true story by Iraq veteran Colby Buzzell
SEP 27 2013, 4:05 PM ET

http://www.theatlantic.com/video/archive/2013/09/what-combat-feels-like-presented-in-the-style-of-a-graphic-novel/280029/

Really excellent, really sad.  To be expanded to a full-length film.  Beware of foul language.