Archives for posts with tag: Globalization

by Michael Maiello

North Korea’s attempted nuclear strike on American soil landed in the North Pacific, failing to detonate in the drink after falling short of Kodiak Island, Alaska.  The island is home to the largest U.S. Coast Guard base in the world, a relic of the Cold War era when Alaska was more in danger to its immediate western neighbor, the Soviet Union.  Yes, it could have been worse, but North Korea’s attempted attack on the U.S. was so pathetic that it’s possible that North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, didn’t even know the Coast Guard was in the line of fire.

Had the missile hit its target, we are told, it might have vaporized the 150 square mile blast might have vaporized the base and rendered 800 square miles of the island almost permanently uninhabitable.  Of course, danger from fallout would have been immediate in mainland Alaska and northwest Canada (which are sparsely but significantly populated).  No doubt, Jong-un has committed a war crime.

But the U.S. should not re-engage in the Korean War over this dud rocket attack.  It could have been worse, but it wasn’t.  If the U.S. is provoked, the consequences could be dire.  First, China, though it condemned its ally and has not vetoed sterner sanctions from the U.N. Security Council, has made it clear that it will not tolerate a hot war in its territory.  China does not have to fight the U.S. tank to tank, a war it would surely lose.

The trade relationship between China and the U.S. is vital to both countries.  Any disruption of it could spark a worldwide recession.  Were economic growth in China to slow for loss of the U.S. as an export market, its central economic planners would have to dip into the countries vast reserves in order to stoke local demand for goods, services and construction.  Trillions of those reserves are in U.S. Treasury Bonds which, if sold, would drive up borrowing costs for the U.S. government, just as it is entering what would be a multi-year war and occupation halfway around the world.

President Obama must face facts — the U.S. gave up its right to act in that region of the world decades ago, when the first U.S. manufacturing jobs were outsourced to mainland China in debt financed transactions.  If China will not tolerate U.S. military action in the region, then such action is just too large an economic gamble.

A more ready solution would be to let South Korea take care of its northern rival, using our ally and trading partner as a proxy.  Unfortunately, South Korea seems unwilling to act, or to bear the risks.  South Korean President Park Geun-hye has even reportedly counseled Obama that the attempted strike against Alaska was good news.  Had Jong-un really wanted a war, he would have launched an invasion of the South or targeted a U.S. base within the region, one that his rocket would have had a better chance of hitting.  Geun-hye dismisses the Alaska attack as little more than a face saving tantrum.  Under threat from his own bellicose generals, at whose pleasure he rules, Jong-un simply had to do something.

What he chose to do was to demonstrate the range of his weapon, but at a distance where his technology simply cannot be accurate.  It was a dangerous game, yes, but a game nonetheless.  The American people seem to realize this, and have so far not supported an extensive military response from the U.S.  Certainly, the population has no appetite or patience for the kind of mobilization that the country experienced during the original Korean War that started in 1950 and sparked the nationwide conscription of able bodied young American men.  If the appetite for war isn’t there, we shouldn’t do it.

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell has scoffed that if the missile had come so close to Los Angeles, New York or Washington D.C. that people might feel differently.  But, again, it didn’t.  We should deal with the facts as they are and stand pat.  We can contain North Korea and save our military resources for only the most existential threats.

Not only is that common sense, but the U.S. can’t afford to do much else.

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by Michael Maiello

Since the passage of the Volstead Act in 1919, the United States has been a “dry” country, though you wouldn’t notice if you visited any of its major cities, including its capital.  It is well known that the very politicians who, year after year, fail to repeal Volstead (or even address it) consume alcohol in private even as they speak against it in public.

The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms has tremendous political clout and has been, for decades, hammering the great middle of the country with anti-alcohol propaganda and hysterical warnings about behavioral and health risks.  As the government has effectively cracked down on home stills and brewers, the wealthier classes think nothing of taking a “booze cruise” outside of the three mile limit, to party it up in international waters.  The scheme seems to be that the upper classes, and the political classes should be allowed their freedoms but that the population at large can’t be trusted.

Continued alcohol prohibition has largely benefited organized crime in Canada and Mexico, where they exist outside of the sophisticated law enforcement powers of the U.S. Federal government.  Meanwhile, Americans have sacrificed many civil rights and liberties with urban police being allowed to stop and search people on almost any pretense, looking for contraband alcohol.

The Federal government is now, also at odds with many states.  Thirty states allow doctors to prescribe alcohol containing “tonics,” for a variety of maladies.  The Federal Government views this as an illegal act and has cracked down on medical dispensaries in California that is suspects are selling folk medicine for recreation use.  Still, we know from years of experience, research and family lore that alcohol has many medicinal properties and can be used for the treatment of stress, to dull the unpleasant affects of other medications and to cure digestive ailments.

Voters in two states, Colorado and Washington, have approved amendments to their states constitutions legalizing beer and wine consumption for pleasure.  These states should be allowed to experiment and, if all goes well, its conceivable that voters could approve the use and sale of harder spirits.

The economic arguments in favor of fill alcohol legalization are well known, almost to the point of tedium.  Consumption could be taxed, which would more than cover the costs of any negative social effects.  California, currently experiencing higher than usual unemployment, and parts of the Pacific Northwest could support extensive wineries.  Europeans might scoff at this notion but there could come a time when a meritage of California grapes rivals any blend from Bordeaux in terms of quality.  If Chile and Australia can make good wine, certainly the U.S. can.  Parts of the south and midwest could return to their Scot-Irish roots and begin the production and sale of whiskeys.

The U.S. has fallen behind in manufacturing, even in high technology.  Many former white collar jobs are now being outsourced.  More than ever, Americans need a drink.  It’s good for the soul and good for the wallet.

by Michael Maiello

It’s 2013, and the United States has failed, embarrassingly, to send one of its citizens to set foot on Earth’s closest celestial object.  In the troubled times of 1968, President John F. Kennedy launched a “Moon Race” against the Soviet Union.  The world’s two super powers spent the next three decades spending hundreds of billions of dollars on missed moon shots.  When the Soviet Union collapsed (bankrupted, some say, by the space race) the U.S. raced with Japan, and now races with China.

Enough.

If we can kill terrorists without risk by using flying death robots called drones, we can certainly send a rocket to the Moon, which is a massive target and only 1.28 light seconds away from the Earth’s surface.  The physical challenges are surmountable, even given the deficiencies of America’s public education system and the basic scientific illiteracy of its population.  It has been 45 years since JFK made his promise to America.  That we have failed has harmed the national psyche and, I would say, prolonged the effects of the Financial Crisis and the resultant Great Recession.

Were we to finally put a man (or woman) on the moon, Americans could join together and say, “If we can put a man on the moon, surely we can deal with the budget deficit.”  Also, in this era of high unemployment and scarce good-paying job prospects, it’s hard to imagine that recent college graduates from around the country would be lining up for jobs as Moon Explorers and support personnel.  Certainly, being able to do a job that would result in you being the first human being to ever step on the strange ground of Earth’s nearest natural satellite beats managing a Starbucks in Sterling, Virginia.  Are we a nation of Magellans or just the bunch of Frappuccino shakers that our global competitors think we are?

Speaking of our global competitors, now might be a good time to reform our nation’s disastrous immigration laws so that we can attract and retains the world’s best minds in pursuit of this noble, nation-building endeavor (Endeavor, by the way, is the name of the prototype of the most promising spacecraft yet developed by the National Air and Space Administration — this “moon craft” is promising and development of it is being absurdly held up by recent partisan bickering over the deficit).

As our politicians dither, this is what’s happening — the best minds from around the world come here to study physics, engineering and other sciences on student visas and then, when they graduate, they are forced to return to their home countries like China and India, where they put their educations to work in the service of our Moon Race competitors.  Your tax dollars may send Bangalore to the moon.  What would Ralph Kramden have to say about that?

Hydraulic Fracturing, also known as “Fracking,” has given the U.S. an abundant supply of natural gas, potentially freeing us from oil dependency on the Middle East and definitely reducing manufacturing costs here at home.  This gas could literally propel the U.S. into the heavens.

This adventure to the Moon might well have more than just psychic rewards for the country.  On our sister planet (I know, it’s not a planet, but allow me a moment of poetry) we could find diamonds, coal, oil, gold and more gas.  With the right planning it’s possible that the brave Americans that we send to the Moon could one day even be brought back to tell us their experiences in person, instead of via G-chat.  To that, I say, excelsior!