Friday, October 31, 2008

Obama "Heavy"

Obama "lite" was all about messianic change - equality, fraternity and perpetual hope for all of America's citizens and non-citizens.

Now - courtesy of the financial crisis - we are getting a large dose of Obama "heavy:" bigger government and increased taxes for the wealthy. A perfect ploy to rustle up votes amongst the masses. Could Obama have been (re-)skimming through Karl Marx on his sojourn from sunny Hawaii to Chicago's South Side?

Obama seems to sincerely want to improve the lot of America's poor and its middle class. In doing so, he will not be able to prevent spreading the government's largesse to those who prefer laziness or stasis to hard work and dynamism, who prefer handouts to sweating up the success ladder like the many immigrant minorities that pass by America's poor with remarkable speed. What's more, he cannot prevent illegal immigrants and incarcerated criminals from sharing in the booty as well.

Obama clearly thrives on the adulation of the crowd, the endless accolades of the majority. Eva Peron did, as does Chavez - this seems to be the essential commonality among populist power brokers, particularly those of the left.

Obama believes, it seems, that America's capitalistic pot is static in size and structure. Tax the wealthy, spread those riches amongst the poor and voila, equality is born again. And the magician gets roses strewn in his every path for his magnificent sleight of hand.

Except that much of this fungible cash, these gifts from the god(s), will be used for TVs, for consumer items and ephemeral pleasures. They will ultimately end up in the coffers of many Chinese exporters and Asian factories, with governments who compete aggressively with us and - in the case of the Chinese - who wish us ill.

Moreover, the wealthy will transfer much of their remaining wealth to lower tax havens and countries (most of the rest of the world by now); they will be less able or motivated to open factories, invest in new projects and build American enterprises. Jobs will be lost rather than gained; salaries too will be compromised. It is a law of simple economic gravity - reduce the economic pot at the top end and this reduction will flow downwards, in a very democratic fashion.

And so the opportunities of advancement, of increased wages, bonuses and jobs for the poor and the middle classes will be substantially reduced, replaced by big government handouts, given even to those 40% of Americans who do not pay income taxes. [By contrast, it is often thought - in non-socialist circles, at least - that the most effective way to engineer responsible and participatory citizenship of all America's peoples would be to tax these 40 percent by a token amount, from 5 to 7.5%. Increased pensions, unemployment and medical insurance could be the state's side of the quid pro quo.]

Initially, Obama's popularity will soar: most people, like politicians, are short-term actors: they evaluate based only on their next week or month, not their next year or decade. And yet America's culture of entrepreneurship, her hard won individuality and success will suffer. We will become more like Old and Eastern Europe just as they both race to become like the America of old - a place where small government facilitated big individuals, where the welfare state was supplanted by democratic opportunity and capitalistic inventiveness. This was the New World where hard work could win anybody a stake in the American dream.

Obama knows better than anyone how to appeal to the masses, how to promise nirvana, how to spin an enticing web of popularity. He is a political master, a genius in grassroots motivation and organizational base building. He is the ultimate populist.

I fear though, that in spite of his inordinate intelligence, he does not yet get "Economics 101." I fear he denies the inevitable and harsh differences between all of us, including - perhaps most dangerously - the difference between America and those countries and dictators who would love to see the end of our freedoms and the demise of our greatness.

I fear we will become more like Old Europe - passive, socialist, recessive and cowardly. Ironically, large swaths of Old Europe and Eastern Europe are now trying to be more like us. They are reducing taxes, controlling big government, inspiring hard work and entrepreneurship. The Eastern Europeans in particular have learnt well history's harsh lessons of socialism, curtailment of freedoms and economic decay.

They get it; Obama does not.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Hunter to Hunted

As Saturday Night Live and Tina Fey have most humorously confirmed, Sarah Palin looked out every morning from her Alaskan home and could see Russia. What they failed to conversely postulate was that Obama likely looked out every morning of his remarkably well planned career and instead saw the White House, clearly illuminated and in perfect focus. Saturday Night Live has thus elucidated for the American voter a simple choice; and one they did not quite intend.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Modern Solution for Ancient Lands – Regeneration of the Biblical Dead Sea

Amid the constant turmoil and angst boiling over in Israel and the West Bank, at the center of the Middle East, lies the Dead Sea. [3] This salt-laden desert sea is rapidly diminishing in size as its source, the Jordan River, dries up: the Syrians (via the Yarmuk, a source for the Jordan), Israelis and Jordanians all draw an ever-increasing amount of water from this biblical tributary. [1]

We think of the Dead Sea as a tourist haven for spa treatments and beauty products, as a relief for psoriasis sufferers; we know about its amazing buoyancy and the factories mining its esoteric salts (its salt concentration is about 33%, compared to 3% in the Mediterranean).

What we don’t know is that this area of dangerously diminishing returns may very well provide a synergistic solution to the region’s major political, economic and environmental problems. A number of large-scale infrastructure projects - including the construction of a canal and nuclear power and desalinization plants - have the potential to transform this “dead” area into a source of life and an inspiration to all mankind. Though daunting, big problems generally require big solutions.

Cutting a 112 mile-long canal north from the Red Sea - starting at Israel’s and Jordan’s southernmost ports - to the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth, has long been cast as a fanciful project, considered either too expensive or too fraught with insurmountable political barriers. Yet it is in reality eminently practical, feasible and cost effective, and there is plenty of private and governmental financing around if the will of decision-makers in both Jordan and Israel can be joined. [2] [5]

Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, formalized the idea of a hydropower canal connecting the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea in his 1920 book The Old New Land (Altneuland), writing already then that the 1300 foot drop would generate critical hydroelectric power. [4]

The Red Sea canal is a decades-old idea that has been recently reinvigorated by one of the world’s richest people, Israeli real estate mogul Yitzhak Tshuva, the current owner of New York’s Plaza Hotel. He describes a strip of blue water flowing 100 miles through the desert, alongside high speed trains, with waterfalls surrounded by parks and luxury hotels, bringing Israelis and Arabs together in a thriving free-trade zone. If built, this “Valley of Peace” will be the most dramatic single change ever made to the landscape of the Holy Land, employing hundreds of thousands on both sides of the border, in the bargain. [7]

The introduction of substantial quantities of (albeit salt) water into this arid area would allow additional water to percolate slowly down into its depleted aquifers, losing much of its salinity in the process. Ground water resources for the West Bank, Jordan and Israel would be crucially replenished, as well as substantial quantities of fresh water for agriculture, a source of much argument and bickering between the parties. What’s more, the diminishing Dead Sea would refill, sustaining its healing powers and its natural bounty.

The height difference between the Red and the Dead Seas could be utilized hydrostatically to further desalinate the incoming seawater as well as creating enough hydroelectric power not only to drive all the pumping stations needed for the project, but also to supply electricity to the surrounding urban and industrial areas.

As an essential complement to this project, nuclear power plants should be built as a joint-venture between Jordan and Israel, including multiple concrete and steel shells sufficiently hardened to withstand any missiles, rockets or targeted bombs. The technology exists to build just such a safe and impermeable facility, which could draw on ample supplies of saltwater for its cooling requirements.

Based far from major population centers, modern nuclear power could safely supply enough electricity to cover much of the power needs of Jordan, the West Bank, and Israel, thereby ensuring the region’s strong and permanent commitment to this project’s enduring success. With such a powerful asset on hand, mutual self-interest would cut through politics and promote the safety, security and longevity of the project. No-one apart from renegade terrorists would attempt to kill the goose that lays these golden eggs. And Israel and Jordan are both well capable of cooperatively securing the area.

Finally, huge desalinization plants for fresh water should be built on the shores of the then-full Dead Sea, drawing on cheap excess electricity (especially at night) from the nuclear power plants. The primary water resources of the region - namely The Sea of Galilee and the Yarmuk and Jordan Rivers - are mostly depleted, and the area is desperately short of water for its growing urban populations, its industries and its agriculture. Fish ponds, recreational areas, luxury hotels and artificial lakes would be developed. With shared Israeli technology, the desert could bloom again, uplifting the whole region and improving dramatically the standard of living for all its peoples, ushering in peace, stability and an economic miracle as all parties develop an irrefutable stake in and support for the success of this project. [8]

This is the glue that will bind these warring and antagonistic parties. This is the stuff our dreams should be made of: water, electricity and tourism will replace suicide bombers and hate-filled propaganda. French President Nicolas Sarkozy lauded this so called “Peace Canal” idea during his recent trip to Israel, as did Saudi Prince bin-Talal. King Abdullah, the leader of Jordan, already supports a different version of the plan. [6]

With peace and common interests thereby initiated, tourism would thrive, from Jordan’s unrivaled ruins of Petra to Bethlehem on the West Bank, from Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa to the church at Capernaum, where Jesus preached and fed his disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. A new renaissance would be ushered in as tens of million of tourists who annually visit the Eiffel Tower and the Coliseum drift eastwards across the Mediterranean to this unique and biblical land, the historical crossroads of the world’s major religions and its divided cultures, and the center, seemingly, of its current problems.

And now also, clearly, at the core of its potential solution.


[1] In the 1930s the inflow of fresh water from the Jordan River (about 1300 million cubic meters per year) equaled the rate of evaporation. Today the inflow is less than a third of that due to upstream diversion.
Dead Sea Canal.

The Friends of the Earth Middle East talk of the Jordan River as becoming “little more than an open sewage channel.” In what seems to be a particular exaggeration they claim only 5% of the Jordan’s flow reaches the Dead
Sea. Red Sea Canal plan "threat"

The Dead Sea’s water level has dropped some 82 feet over the past century, reducing its surface area considerably at the same time. Sink holes have started to appear in the area.
Diverting Red Sea to Save Dead Sea Could Create Environmental Crisis.

[2] Earlier this year, the World Bank finished a series of public hearings on a Red Sea Canal plan. The say the cost would be U.S. $5 billion, but are concerned with two threats: first, earthquakes may flood the valley with seawater, thus polluting the groundwater as well; and second, mixing of the Dead and Red Sea waters may produce unknown results. They are projected to be starting a U.S. $15 million feasibility study this month.
Red Sea Canal plan "threat"

Diverting Red Sea to Save Dead Sea Could Create Environmental Crisis
William Allen proposed in 1855 a canal-waterway that would connect the three bodies of water bordering the Holy Land, namely the Mediterranean, the Dead and the Red Seas. He believed at the time that it would be cheaper than the projected Suez Canal.
The Red Sea and the Mediterranean Dead Sea Canals Project

[3] A million years ago or so a major earthquake created the Syrian-African Rift Valley stretching through the Red Sea on into Africa and its lakes in Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi. The Dead Sea sank deep into the valley and was deprived of its natural outflow to the sea.
Dead Sea Canal

[4] The 1300-foot drop would also be suitable for reverse osmosis desalination, a process that uses the force of the drop to push seawater through an artificial membrane creating even more fresh water.
Dead Sea Canal

[5] Others have postulated a canal between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee, whereby the “potential difference” in height between these two seas would be converted to energy by means of a hydroelectric station. The energy this produced would be further used to desalinate the seawater.
Building the Wrong Canal

[6] Jordan is mulling over a cheaper alternative to the Red Sea – Dead Sea Canal. They are considering building a desalination plant in Aqaba, on the Red Sea shore and pumping the water through pipes to Amman, the capital.
An Alternative to the Red-Dead Canal. Furthermore, if the canal were to be realized they prefer it to be located on their side of the border with Israel, which is sure to be a “political football.” Jordan mulling cheaper alternative to Red Sea-Dead Sea canal

[7] Tshuva said he and other leading Israel financiers could foot the entire bill for the canal, desalination plants and hydroelectric installations (he does not talk of nuclear power plants). He talked of a cost of some $3.3 billion, which by some counts seems too conservative. The total project, according to Tshuva, could create as many as 200,000 hotel rooms and a million much needed jobs. Israeli billionaire pushes for Red Sea-Dead Sea canal

[8] An alternative to the Red-Dead Sea Canal has been proposed. Called the “Peace Canal”, this is an international project for conveying water from Turkey via Syria and the Golan Heights, providing fresh water solutions for Syria, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). The plan would bring 2-3 billion cubic meters of water per annum, more than that which Israel and the PNA currently use every year. The energy generated by the fall in height down to the northern Jordan River (that feeds into the Sea of Galilee) would be used to transport the water along the 450-mile route. The overflow not needed by the participants would be used to refill the Dead Sea. Apart from reviving the Jordan River, the Israelis would restock the mountain and coastal aquifers underlying both Israel and the PNA. The battle over water resources is one of the main impediments to resolving the Middle East conflict and may now potentially be a primary solution. The economic benefits will also reduce the chances of another failed peace agreement, bringing the intractable Syrians on board as well.
Israeli Paper Reports Israel-Syria "Peace Canal" Proposal on Water Issue.

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