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Should We Believe The Thorium Hype?
January 05, 2010

Has any element on the periodic table gotten better press lately than thorium? (Okay, maybe lithium, what with all the fuss over electric-car batteries.) The December issue of Wired has a long feature by Richard Martin on why good old Th could be a miracle fuel for nuclear power. Here's why it beats uranium, for starters: Uranium is currently the actinide of choice for the [nuclear] industry, used (sometimes with a little plutonium) in 100 percent of the world’s commercial reactors. But it’s a problematic fuel.

Barack Obama, You Remind Me of Herbert Hoover
January 05, 2010

Barack Obama has been compared to almost every American President of the last hundred years--favorably to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan; and unfavorably to Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush.

Carbon Tariffs Show Up In Unlikely Places
January 04, 2010

The world's first carbon border tax is on the way—and, surprisingly, it doesn't involve imports from China: To encourage the switch to clean renewable energy, Minnesota plans to add a carbon fee of between $4 and $34 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions to the cost of coal-fired electricity, to begin in 2012, to discourage the use of coal power, the greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions. ... Most of North Dakota’s electricity exports is generated by coal-fired power plants.

COIN Toss
January 04, 2010

On the night of December 1, shortly after Barack Obama announced plans to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, retired Lt. Colonel John Nagl appeared on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.” Maddow was dismayed by Obama’s new plan, which she called “massive escalation,” but, when she introduced Nagl, a counterinsurgency expert who has long called for a greater U.S. commitment to Afghanistan--even if it means raising taxes and expanding the military--she was surprisingly friendly.

Why Is Campbell Soup Interested In Cap-And-Trade?
January 02, 2010

There are so many different companies trying to influence the shape of climate policy in Washington that it's hard to get a sense for the sheer scale involved. According to the Center for Public Integrity's latest tally, there are now 1,160 businesses and groups wrangling over the issue—and they've hired a whopping 2,780 climate lobbyists. An even better sign of the frenzy is the fact that companies you'd never expect to care about the arcane details of cap-and-trade are now taking a keen interest.

The End of Hunger?
January 02, 2010

Famine: A Short History By Cormac Ó Gráda (Princeton University Press, 327 pp., $27.95) The earliest recorded famines, according to Cormac Ó Gráda in his brief but masterful book, are mentioned on Egyptian stelae from the third millennium B.C.E. In that time--and to an extent, even today, above the Aswan dam in Sudan--farmers along the Nile were dependent on the river flooding to irrigate their fields. But one flood out of five, Ó Gráda tells us, was either too high or too low. The result was often starvation.

The Desperation Of American Universities In Araby
December 30, 2009

I last wrote in this space about American universities in the Arab oil orbit on April 23, 2008. That Spine was called “The New Colonialism, Education Division,” and it focused on the exploits of New York University in Abu Dhabi. Now, in matters like these, N.Y.U. is really in the business of whoring. This is made clear in an intriguing article by Tamar Lewin in the New York Times.  The report actually headlines: “University Branches in Dubai Are Struggling.” But it also covers Abu Dhabi, sort of harking back to its slightly breathless dispatch of nearly two years ago. N.Y.U.

The Foreign Policy Awards
December 29, 2009

BIGGEST TACTICAL BLUNDER: Pushing the Israeli-Arab peace process too hard. Obama took office looking for bold strokes at a time when peace seemed as far away as ever: Israel had just finished its punishing military campaign in Gaza last winter, and the Arab world was inflamed, and deeply uninterested in making offerings to Israel. Obama's squeeze on Israeli settlements, meanwhile, managed to a) tick off a backlash in Israel that enabled the Netanyahu government to stand its ground, without b) shaking loose meaningful Arab support.

Did Obama Really Sidestep The U.N. At Copenhagen?
December 21, 2009

Analysts are still mulling over the Copenhagen accord, trying to figure out what it means for the fate of global climate politics. The humdrum answer is that it all depends—we'll have to see how individual nations tackle their CO2 emissions in the months and years ahead, and then watch how the next round of international talks shake out. But if it's specifics you want, check out Harvard economist Robert Stavin's analysis. First, a recap of the negotiations that led to the deal: From all reports, the talks were completely deadlocked when U.S.

The Rise of Republican Nihilism
December 21, 2009

Does the Republican Party have any ideas? The query may have a familiar ring. Five years ago, the question of substance was demanded incessantly of the Democrats. Indeed, in one of those intellectual fads that periodically sweep through Washington, the political class became obsessed with the notion that conservatives had unambiguously won what everybody was calling “the war of ideas.”  The notion was everywhere. The right gloated.

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