20th Century Thinkers in the 21st Century

by John Brian Shannon

Many people in this 21st century would be surprised to hear they are deeply immersed (and some would say, horribly stuck) in 20th century thought, a century where for ninety of those hundred years, the endless game of nation-state vs. nation-state was played, and often played with brutality. Nation against nation, democracy competing with communism and authoritarianism, freedom vs. repression and ‘the West’ against ‘the East’, or occasionally, ‘North’ against ‘South’ — these were the headlines of a turbulent century.

All these battles were fought diligently, usually for valid reasons (but not always) by nation-states, their citizens, and soldiers, all over the world from about 1914 onwards.

In terms of the success against such social ills as world war, small hot wars, the Cold War, fascism, tribal wars, poor governance and even poorer economics, plus a low global standard of health care, we have come far in the past 100 years.

The problem is, some just don’t realize how far we have come and are still ‘fighting the last war’ to use a military euphemism.

The last war is well and truly over. Unfortunately, some have utterly missed that, profound as it is.

Illogically, many of these people are still holding positions of power, many of them from the baby-boom generation, that for now at least, continue to call the shots for the rest of the world.

A world of change has occurred, and yet many of those holding either political office or powerful unelected positions are completely blind to it, as their hatred for their former enemies burns so bright.

In the West, for just one example, most citizens are pleased that Vladimir Putin is running Russia. We all know that Russia is experiencing the problems associated with a former Soviet-era economy, but that they are recovering nicely from it. We also know that they are dealing with incredibly rapid economic growth – which is a great problem to have! If your country must have a major problem to deal with, that’s the one to have.

And many people in the West and around the world, socialize with Russians every day, online, in the workplace or at universities around the world. Everyone is getting along just fine, thank you.

Спасибо, очень понравилось! (Which is Russian for, “Thank you, very much!”)

But are Western political office holders or powerful unelected leaders happy about any of that? For the most part, NOT! And therein, lies a tantalizing clue about what ails the geopolitical world in this century.

The people in (elected and unelected) positions of power in the West today are the same generation that taught us to fear, hate, and fight, the Soviet Union at all costs (one of those costs being lessened Western civil liberties from the onset of the Cold War right up to the present day) — and the fact that the Soviet Union no longer exists and communism in modern-day Russia is about as important as it is here (it’s not) does not decrease their deeply-held hatred of our former enemy.

The better the Russian economy does, the more they hate Russia. The more Russian citizens smile on TV, the more they castigate Vlad Putin. As Russia became the 13th most powerful economy in the world, some in the West were tearing their hair out. Russia is on-track to become the 10th most powerful economy in the world within the next decade. Can’t wait to see the contorted faces then!

And it is getting increasingly difficult for certain Western news outlets to show recent pictures or videos taken in and around Moscow, without the many Mercedes Benz and BMW cars and SUV’s driven by ordinary Russian citizens ‘crapping up the frame’ – thereby contradicting the verbal op/ed piece.

No! All those Mercedes and BMW’s are NOT driven by “filthy rich Russian oligarchs with ‘dirty money’ or high ranking KGB officers that hate Fox News… er… America.”

That was LAST century.

The real story, in case you missed it, is that it is no longer about nation-state against nation-state (although, some people are desperately trying to make it ‘still that’), nor is it even, democracy against practically all other forms of government (although, some people are desperately trying to make it ‘still that’), nor is about some well-intentioned fight against horrible social ills such as apartheid, which is mostly won at this point (although, some people are desperately trying to make it ‘still that’).

What it is about, is that 98% of the world’s citizens want their governments to stop fighting the last war, to cease with the old hatreds and prejudices and get on with clearing a path for citizens, so that they can progress — financially, socially, and for those who want it, spiritually.

Feudalism was replaced with something better (from the point-of-view of 98% of the world population back in the day) which manifested itself as freedom and democracy in half the world, while the other half endured communism, which was still a lot better than feudalism, for most citizens. The governance systems in use in the 21st century are mostly democratic ones — and the ones that aren’t, are reforming at different speeds towards democracy anyway — whether we bomb them or not.

Our representative governments must begin to focus on what democracy was originally created to achieve. Can anyone even remember what this was, this far out from democracy’s beginnings? In general terms, it was to bring freedom, the rule of law, education, economic prosperity, and the pursuit of pleasure to the vast majority of citizens (the 98%) living within that voluntary state of governance.

But truth be told at this point, citizens around the world would settle for this generation of powerful elected and unelected people stuck in their 20th century mindsets, just getting out of citizens’ way and letting individuals and families solve their own issues and get to their goals, themselves. A new generation will soon take the reins.

In the meantime, try not to blow up the world with your 20th century thinking. Thanks.

Signed, the 98 percent.

JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

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America: Why the High Unemployment?

by John Brian Shannon

In 1970, of the 89,244 new cars and trucks sold in the U.S.A., 84.9% of them were built in North America, while only 15.1% of them were manufactured in other countries and shipped to this continent for purchase and registration.

In 2012, of the 14.4 million new cars and trucks sold in the U.S.A., 44.5% of them were built in North America, while imports accounted for 55.6% of registrations. Read here.

By any measure, this is an ongoing paradigm shift — which directly relates to American unemployment statistics since 1970.

A total of 15.4 million car and light truck sales are expected in the U.S. for calendar year 2013 — the best year since 2007. By 2014, U.S. sales are expected to reach 16 million, with imports continuing to increase their market share in the U.S.

Since the first Model T Ford rolled off the Dearborn, MI assembly line, millions of  workers have been employed by American automakers – including some workers who worked for the same company their entire career. Fathers who worked at Ford, GM or Chrysler from their childhood until retirement, found their sons and daughters good-paying jobs with their old employers. Unemployment in the 1945 – 1975 era was generally quite low — and that, in the midst of an economically damaging Cold War which negatively affected many parts of society including the unemployment rate, not incidentally.

Generally during the post-war boom, everybody worked, everybody earned a paycheque, and almost everybody contributed to the economy. About late 1973 or early 1974 this began to profoundly change in the United States and in the Western nations generally.

Not to blame the American auto manufacturers for the Arab Oil Embargo, as the Big Three had been assured of low petroleum prices by foreign governments and several domestic administrations — hence the big, V-8 powered cars of the era and their consequently-low MPG figures were popular with both manufacturers and consumers.

But American consumers are a fickle lot. Once the gas price shot upwards in the aftermath of the Arab Oil embargo, Datsun (now Nissan), Toyota and Honda nameplates began selling as fast as the ships could deliver them from Japan.

If only the foreign vehicles were of inferior quality! But they’re not. If only they used more fuel than their U.S. equivalents. But they don’t. The corporate fuel economy average for foreign and domestic makes still favours imported vehicles. Not by the wide margin it once did — and not that GM and Ford haven’t scored impressive MPG victories in some categories, because they have.

But, to put it bluntly, many employed Americans prefer their foreign-built cars. (“And those millions of now-chronically-unemployed Americans will just have to get by.”)

It’s not just cars and trucks either. Historically, most home electronics sold in the U.S.A. including televisions, smartphones and computers were also ‘Made in the U.S.A.’  — but not these days.

Most of the clothing, plastics and extruded metals purchased in the U.S. are now manufactured in Asian and Southeast Asian nations, where countries like Indonesia rely heavily on textile exports to us and other Western nations.

Much of the American conversation these days revolves around the old austerity vs. stimulus debate which reporters and op/ed journalists are required by their respective organizations to cover.

Meanwhile the 80-ton elephant in the room is the trillions of manufacturing dollars which have transferred from the West to Asia since 1970 — and the manufacturing jobs that have gone with them.

China’s Dream Team — MY COMMENT

by John Brian Shannon

While some might think that the sky is falling now that a new President of China and a new Chinese Premier will be installed in March 2013 — Stephen S. Roach with his years of professional experience working with many of the individuals involved, tells us in his latest Project Syndicate article China’s Dream Team we should feel hopeful this time around.

Not that we didn’t feel hopeful when President of China Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jaibao came to power. In fact, I would like to take the opportunity to compliment the team of Hu Jintao and Wen Jaibao for their many successes — including the massively successful XXIX Olympiad held in Beijing.

Both men attended Harvard in younger years, both had plenty of exposure to Western ideas and neither seemed to ‘have it in’ for the West.

Historically speaking, communist leaders have generally displayed skepticism or outright hostility to the West and have been critical of Western thought and actions, even when some Western policies were of little concern to communist nations.

During the tenure of Hu Jintao and Wen Jaibao, China has advanced in many areas and has remained a peaceful partner of the West. In particular, both leaders ushered in powerful policies and regulations to help mitigate the environmental catastrophe which has resulted from such rapid industrialization.

China presently burns more than 3 billion tons of coal each year resulting in the production of 7.2 billion tons of CO2, plus other gaseous pollutants and particulates. These numbers are expected to double by 2020 based on already planned and funded (but not yet built) coal power plants adding to the output from existing coal-fired power plants there.

The successful Chinese program directed by these two great men to dramatically limit nitrous oxides at coal-fired power plants comes to mind. This is important because, according to Wikipedia; “Nitrous Oxide is a major greenhouse gas and air pollutant. Considered over a 100-year period, it has 298 times more impact ‘per unit weight’ (Global warming potential) than carbon dioxide.[2]”

For an overview of the Chinese environmental situation and their response to it (current as of May 2012), please see my UNDP article here:

Or go directly to the downloadable PDF.

Over 382 billion dollars worth of conservation and sustainable energy projects have been announced since May 2012. And, another 56 billion was announced today, December 5, 2012 read the Reuters article here.

By 2020, when China will pump 15 billion tons of CO2 into the air just from its coal plants, any positive conservation and mitigation efforts made now will have enormous consequences then.

Let us hope that the new leadership team is as enlightened about the environment as the previous team. Let’s hope the calm and reasonable approach to international affairs and the wise economic choices of former President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jaibao will continue.

Above all, let’s not spoil the atmosphere with fearful or angry rhetoric. Minor irritants must remain minor! China needs us, we need them. Full stop.

Only second in importance to ending the Cold War (which was successfully ended by dialogue, goodwill and cooperation between the various players) is the need for China and the West to find ways to work together everyday for the betterment of the largest number of citizens in China and the West.

If the same degree of dedication, goodwill and cooperation is employed to find ways for China and the West to work together as was done to end the Cold War, everyone on the planet will reap those benefits for decades to come!

I welcome incoming Chinese leader President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang to their new official positions and hope that Western leaders will reach out with sincere invitations to promote a grander and better vision of our world than was ever thought possible just 30-years ago.

Note: Xi Jinping became General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and Chairman of the CCP’s Central Military Commission, giving him supreme authority over China’s armed forces. Next March, he will become President of China as well. Read more here.

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That’s Not the Goal I’m Working For

by John Brian Shannon

It was fascinating to read the Project Syndicate article by Former US Secretary of Defense Harold Brown on America’s trouble with China discussing some of the history and modern-day challenges to Sino-American relations.

Although I have the greatest respect for former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, I respectfully disagree with his proposed solution to the present challenges. Starting a new Cold War to secure America’s future is a step backward — not a step forward.

Rather, as both Western and Chinese interests converge at so many levels in the modern paradigm, it is in our best interests to work on solutions together.

Instead of the “Win – Lose” thinking of the past, it is incumbent upon us to find ways to “Win – Win” as so much is at stake.

We survived the last Cold War, but that is no guarantee we would survive another one. It’s simply too big a risk to take — especially when there are better options available. And, there are.

The former Secretary of Defense states that; “China’s export-led economic model has reached its limits…” and I believe this is a most profound point.

IF China has reached it’s export-led model as he asserts, it has only done so because there are presently a lack of purchasers to purchase Chinese goods.

For years, China has manufactured products to sell around the world and as long as there has been plenty of disposable income in the West, there has been plenty of sales.

As the Western economies fell backwards — so did Chinese exports.

Funny how that works.

In case policy-makers haven’t yet reached the same conclusions as I, let me say the situation I describe above is easily verifiable and directly correlates with the economic events of the early 21st century.

Whether political leaders in the U.S. or China like it or not, the relationship has been, is, and must continue to be, a symbiotic one.

China NEEDS a healthy, stable and frankly, a wealthy Western world to sell it’s wares to — and the West needs a source of low priced goods to assist growth to continue at lower cost than otherwise would be the case.

The U.S. needs a large export market for its billions of tons of coal and millions of barrels of petroleum that it must sell every year to support those industries here.

By 2017 the U.S. will surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s #1 oil exporter — according to the IEA — but in actuality, this may occur in 2015.

http://arabiangazette.com/us-top-oil-producer-2017/

Not only that, so many products are manufactured by American corporations in China at lower cost than they could be here — therefore personal happiness is enhanced on a massive scale by products Western consumers can afford. Thanks China!

And without a healthy China (and Japan) who will continue to buy all those T-Bills to float the American economy? Along with all of the other China-driven (and increasing yearly) investment and purchasing of American goods and services.

For the next few decades, the only politics that make over-arching sense will be the politics of economics. For now, more than ever, the politics of self-interest will be the politics of economics and the politics of economics will be the politics of self-interest.

The stronger the Chinese economy, the better the effect on Western economies and Western governments. The stronger the American and other Western economies, the better for Chinese exports.

Any other model will be a lesser model and will bring it’s own problems with it.

As for the long-range bomber advocated for by former Secretary Harold Brown. I too, want a strong, secure and freedom-loving North America — but let us hope the days of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) are over.

Instead of sabre-rattling and an ever-present nuclear threat, let us hope that our thinking as a species has moved on.

A Pentagon report laid it out in stark terms a couple of decades back, “it is not a case of if, but of when” a nuclear exchange will take place under the MAD paradigm.

If we can’t co-exist, if we can’t form and retain viable and symbiotic relationships with other nations — every one of us will be dead, eventually. And then, none of it will matter.

That’s not the goal I’m working for.

.

Read more at: http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/from-competition-to-confrontation-for-the-us-and-china-by-harold-brown#yD3qLMzsctZhgiyR.99

JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

To follow John Brian Shannon on social media – place a check-mark beside your choice of Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn: FullyFollowMe/johnbrianshannon

An Assessment Just Waiting to Happen

by John Brian Shannon

What is the matter with energy? A scientist might say, what is the energy with matter?

There are really only two things in the universe. One is matter and the other is energy. All matter can be turned into energy if you have a large enough or sophisticated enough machine available.

Take the Sun for example. It is a big, hot ball of nuclear fusion taking place somewhere in space not too far away from us, thankfully. If it were too far away, we wouldn’t receive enough energy (mostly in the form of heat and visible, infrared and UV light) to support the many life forms on this planet.

So is the Sun matter, or energy? Our Sun is made up of matter which produces energy using the nuclear fusion process which takes place there on a huge scale.

Our Sun produces energy from its mass using fusion while today’s nuclear reactors produce energy from matter using a highly-efficient process — nuclear fission. Nuclear physics is used to enhance energy production from matter and this process requires certain metallic elements for maximum efficiency.

When we discuss electrical power generation using nuclear power, there are really only a few downsides. All of which cost you a lot of money, unfortunately, as some costs are paid by taxpayers (government-funded R&D and national security, to name just two) while other costs are in the form of electrical bills, paid by electricity users.

One of the highest costs has been the research and development of nuclear materials and nuclear power plant design/engineering to provide electrical power for cities and towns, which began in the cold War era. The United States has borne much of the cost of nuclear power research in the Western nations over the past decades. Such R&D is very costly and continues.

The various fuels used in nuclear reactors are (like many things) hazardous if misused. A crude nuclear bomb, one that a domestic or foreign terrorist could make from a new or ‘spent’ nuclear fuel rod requires a full-blanket approach to security of nuclear plants, processing facilities, transportation of nuclear materials and even uranium mines, which translates to high costs.

Another high cost are the power plants themselves, which must first of all be constructed with very high security in mind, have locations near waterways and the very high levels of design and engineering required for dealing with nuclear materials combine to add to the costs involved.

So far, so good. Because thus far, nuclear power plants in the U.S. and the rest of the Western world have thrived and produced profit for their investors. Whether government or privately-owned, nuclear power is so efficient and has such a small carbon footprint, that it would be almost unimaginable to not have had them adding baseline load to Western power grids all along. Yes, they have been that good, and, for that long!

There is one unsolved externality with regards to nuclear power; What to do with the spent rods? This is one kind of cost which could turn out to become larger than all the other costs put together – IF this part of the nuclear equation isn’t handled properly.

Or, if handled properly, and recognized for the true resource it really is, it could spark a renewed interest in nuclear energy AND could become the greater part of a solution to the entire spent fuel problem!

For decades people have been rightly concerned about the thousands of tons of so-called spent nuclear fuel stockpiles just sitting around in astronomically expensive storage facilities in many Western nations. Which is where some of it must stay for up to 20,000 years or longer, in massive air-conditioned underground bunkers. Were the A/C shut down for more than 36 hours — even once, a catastrophic event of national proportions could occur.

The amount of energy which could be extracted from this spent fuel is truly mind-boggling. With careful usage, these presently useless and costly-to-store materials could power much of North America for decades.

Yes, some government subsidy money would be required in order to ‘burn’ these partially-spent fuel rods and produce plenty of power from them until they are only slightly radioactive and infinitely safer to dispose of – but that will pale in comparison to the amount of subsidy money the U.S. government already spends to securely store, monitor and keep cool, spent nuclear fuel rods for up to 20,000 years!

There are tons of very expensive and toxic matter that is presently sitting around, costing uncountable billions to store and becoming ever more unstable as time goes by. It can become one of the nation’s prime sources of energy by re-processing it and ‘burning it’ as nuclear power generation fuel, and doing so will dramatically increase America’s energy and environmental security.

Which is why I respectfully call on President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to call for an assessment of all spent, otherwise unused, or unusable, processed nuclear materials of any kind, in the U.S. – much of which could be re-processed or used ‘as is’ for electrical power generation by a new generation of American SMR nuclear reactors, thereby solving the ‘thus far unsolved’ externalities of nuclear power.

John Brian Shannon

ABOUT JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

I write about green energy, sustainable development and economics. My blogs appear in the Arabian Gazette, EcoPoint, EnergyBoom, Huffington Post, United Nations Development Programme, WACSI — and other quality publications.

“It is important to assist all levels of government and the business community to find sustainable ways forward for industry and consumers.”

Green Energy blog: http://johnbrianshannon.com
Economics blog: https://jbsnews.wordpress.com
Twitter: @JBSCanada