Digest: 16 June 2013

Abstract

A businessman seeks to become the first to create a brand name marijuana retail chain in the US, despite ongoing Federal adherence to misguided laws that prohibit the sale of marijuana; geo-engineering as a means of combatting global warming is misguided and dangerous, we are unwise to think we can engineer something we don’t understand; sawdust and straw can be converted into biofuel through the use of fungus a recent study shows; the massive amounts of food wasted in the US and around the world is contributing to global warming as a result of the methane released by the decomposition of food waste in landfills; hybrid fish, the result of breeding genetically modified fish with wild fish, outcompete both GM and wild fish in laboratories showing the risk of the potential release of those fish into the wild; Obama has adopted and even expanded some of the most aggressive aspects of Bush’s war against terror, despite his characterisation of that approach as excessive;  there is a high likelihood that the US government surveillance program collects extensive information about a large number of Americans through what can be termed “incidental” surveillance, contrary to what has been asserted by the Obama administration; the US has been as complicit in international crime as any other nation since its inception, despite the prominent US role in pointing out the dire consequences of the continuation of such activities;  the US military has been formed into a maximally powerful force with a minimum of citizen engagement and comprehension, this is a dangerous development that has been taking place since the Vietnam War; the steady rise of China as an economic force in the world is a major threat to the US and other likeminded countries, and yet it is only the US that is addressing the issue, Europe, by contrast, continues to give Chinese companies the red-carpet treatment.

Economics

In Big Pot, Timothy Egan (for The New York Times) discusses Jamen Shively’s intention to create the first brand-name marijuana retail chain in the US.  Shively, a former Microsoft manager, sees the economic potential of the legalization of marijuana into a regulated taxable product.  Although the sale of marijuana remains a federal crime, the recent moves of Colorado and Washington states to legalise and regulate it are promising in that they have the potential to undermine what is considered by many to be an unsupportable position – the prohibition of marijuana supports organised criminal activity and causes the incarceration of 800,000 people (four times as many blacks as whites, despite similar percentage rates of usage).  It is estimated that 7% of the US population uses marijuana regularly, and that as much as $2 billion could be retrieved from the taxation of legalised marijuana over five years.

Environmental

In Geoengineering: Our Last Hope, or a False Promise?, Clive Hamilton (for The New York Times) discusses that suggestions to employ geoengineering to solve global warming issues are misguided and potentially very dangerous.  Geoengineering refers to the deliberate large scale intervention in the climate systems to counter the warming of the planet.  Particular approaches may include ocean fertilization (spreading iron slurry over oceans to increase absorption of carbon dioxide) and enveloping the earth with sulfate particles to decrease the effects of solar radiation).  But significant uncertainties exist as to the potential effects of these methods.  These uncertainties include decreased ability to distinguish between the effects of geoengineering efforts and natural processes, geopolitical and military concerns regarding who controls the thermostat, and (probably most importantly) we simply don’t have sufficient understanding of the earth’s highly complex climate system to be attempting to engineer it.

In Genetic Study Reveals Cheaper Process to Convert Sawdust to Biofuel, Yale Environment 360 discusses how a team of genetic engineers have developed an inexpensive process that uses fungus to convert straw and sawdust into biofuel.  By identifying the specific gene that triggers the required molecular switch in the raw materials, the process avoids the need for stimulation from a substance worth 60 times more than gold.  The break-through holds great promise in the development of biofuel.

In Americans Throw Out 40 Percent of their Food, which is Terrible for the Climate, Katie Valentine (for Nation of Change) discusses how food waste in the US has grown by 50% since the 1970s, and that this food waste (31 million tons per year in the US), when decomposing in landfills produces methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon. Related problems include the wasted energy used in producing food later thrown away, and that worldwide as much as 50% of food is wasted despite the fact that as much as 870 million people in the world are undernourished – an amount that may be expected to increase with the unpredictable effects of climate change.

In GM Salmon Can Breed with Wild Fish and Pass on Genes, Rebecca Morelle (for BBC News) discusses the risk of genetically modified fish being released into the wild and breeding with wild fish.  The concern rests in the fact that in laboratory experiments the hybrid fish out-competed (for limited food sources) both the wild and GM fish.  Even though the risks might be said to be low that a fish could be released into the wild, the ecological result could be serious.  The USFDA is currently assessing whether the GM fish may be sold in the marketplace.

Politics

In Even as Wars Fade, Obama Maintains Bush’s Data Mining, Peter Baker (for The New York Times) discusses how despite Obama’s stated intention to depart from his predecessor’s excessive approach to terrorism, he has in fact adopted and even expanded some of the most aggressive aspects of that approach.  Obama’s employment of both surveillance and drone strikes exceed Bush’s.  Although Congressional leaders have defended the counterterrorism laws that they helped to put in place, Obama’s approach has certainly bridged the aisle where critical assessments are concerned – in light of the recent public revelations regarding government data-mining – he has irked both the left and right of the US political spectrum.

In What You Need to Know About the Government’s Massive Online Spying Program, Andrea Peterson (for Nation of Change) discusses the recent revelations about the secret government program to access personal information from internet companies.  Specifically, the article describes the type of information recoverable from various companies and points out that contrary to what has been asserted, or at least insinuated, by the Obama administration, there is a high likelihood that the surveillance program collects extensive information about a large number of Americans through what can be termed “incidental” surveillance.

In Gangster’s Paradise: The Untold History of the United States and International Crime, Peter Andreas (for Foreign Affairs) discusses the role of international crime in today’s global economy.  The article further considers how despite the prominent US role in pointing out the dire consequences of the continuation of such activities, the US has been as complicit in this activity as any other nation since the inception of the United States, and how that relationship with “clandestine commerce” has been integral to the rise of the US economy.

Social

In Americans and Their Military: Drifting Apart, Karl Eikenberry and David Kennedy (for The New York Times) discuss the widening gap between the US people and their armed forces and the effect that gap has on decisions regarding the deployment of the military.  Specifically, after Vietnam, conscription ended in the US and was replaced by a large professional volunteer force.  Now, less than .5% of the population serves in the armed forces.  In 1970, 70% of members of Congress had served in the military, now only 20% have – instead, the military is largely recruited from the disadvantaged.  Technology further insulates the population from the pain and repercussions of warfare causing indifference to its costs.   Today the military is a maximally powerful force with a minimum of citizen engagement and comprehension.

In China’s Economic Empire, Heriberto Araujo and Juan Pablo Cardenal (for The New York Times) discuss the steady rise of China as an economic force in the world, international responses to that rise, and the repercussions of that rise for the future.  This is a major threat to the US and other likeminded countries, and yet it is only the US that is addressing the issue, for example through the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Europe, by contrast, continues to give Chinese companies the red-carpet treatment.