Can The USA Do Without Coal Mining?

The recent events at Utah have once again turned attention towards the coal industry.Several people feel that we should reduce and eventually stop using this dirty fuel which is responsible for various diseases and is risky to produce as well.The question which begs an answer is whether the USA can ignore coal as a fuel.We need to consider various aspects of the question before attempting an answer.

Coal is the most abundant fossil fuel in the US.In fact it has the world's largest known coal reserves.The total demonstrated reserves are a staggering 492 billion tons of which the recoverable reserves are about267 billion tons.The bulk of these reserves about, 286 billion tons, are situated in only three states,namely Montana,Illinois and Wyoming.

In 2006 the US consumed 1.1 billion tons of coal!About 91% of this was used to generate electricity.The US generates almost 50% of its electricity from coal.At present rates of consumption and assuming that no improvements in efficiency are achieved over time the reserves will last almost 250 years.The increase in oil prices and the continuing crisis in the Middle East has once again drawn attention to coal as an alternative source of energy,more so because technology is now available to convert coal into diesel.With cleaner and quieter diesel engines having been developed it may not be long before autos are powered with fuel made from coal.Of course favorable government policies would be needed.

But there's a flip side to all this. Once coal mining is developed further it won't be long before the coal near the surface is gone.Getting at deeper deposits is both risky and expensive.Presently about two thirds of the coal is produced in surface mining.This is cheaper and considerably less risky to produce.The environmental damage too could be partly repaired by replacing the topsoil and by large scale re-forestation.Even then the environmental damage is huge.Entire mountains,streams and forests have simply disappeared or lie buried under millions of tons of rubble.

The resultant hue and cry raised by environmental groups has had an effect.In West Virginia a lawsuit was brought by an environmental group in Federal court involving mountaintop removal and valley fills.The judge in the case banned valley fills in the buffer zones around streams in 1999 thereby stopping the start of several new mines.

Over the years our power plants have become more efficient.Emissions of pollutants have gone down although power generation has increased.Nevertheless pollution caused by coal fired plants is significant and is a major cause of acid rain,smog, respiratory and other diseases.

The most harmful effect of using coal is the production of greenhouse gases.The emissions of such gases particularly Carbon Dioxide remain almost unchanged and are likely to remain so.Technology is being developed to trap and collect this carbon dioxide.But it will take time and will be expensive.It is heartening that this problem is being appreciated and there is a move not to allow new coal based plants to come up unless they trap and store the Carbon Dioxide that they produce.A lot of effort and money is being put into developing cleaner technologies.In a world concerned with global warming the economic opportunities offered are very large.

So it would seem that for the present there is no viable alternative to coal.We can only hope to learn from our past mistakes and try to avoid them in future.

Freedom of Speech in China and the Bejing Olympics

Roger L. Simon writes at Pajamas Media that he will not blog about the Olympic Games in Bejing (summer of 2008). The reason, of course, is that China’s government is not exactly one of the most tolerant open governments in the world. The Communist Party oppresses its people, torture is still practiced, freedom of speech does is virtually non-existent, etc.

Roger rightfully criticized American companies like Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft in the past, for working with the Chinese government to identify dissenters. One of the cases has resulted in a 10 prison-sentence for a Chinese journalist who dared criticize his own government on the web. The latest developments are that it is impossible for bloggers to blog anonymously. They have to identify themselves. The result is, obviously, that either Chinese bloggers will be very careful with what they write, or that they will be arrested at the moment they criticize their own government.

Roger explains that, in this case too, Yahoo and Microsoft assist the Chinese government. What matters to these companies is money. The almighty Dollar is all that counts. He writes:

Perhaps you do not agree with me that it is for us to judge American corporations that are beholding to their stockholders to achieve maximum profit. I would point out, however, that these two companies are Internet giants that control the free flow of ideas in a manner undreamed of in history. Moreover, in this instance, they are abetting the control of that flow in the most populous country on Earth, one that is already the second greatest Internet user to the US and is growing as an economic and military power at a nearly unprecedented rate.

We ignore free expression in China at our peril. Besides the obvious rights and safety of the bloggers involved, a clamp down on information coming from the People’s Republic could affect areas as diverse as recent allegations of lead poisoning in children’s toys imported to us to the monitoring of our copyrights and patents, so often disregarded. As China continues to grow, so much will be at stake in commerce and international relations, it’s almost beyond comprehension.

I agree with Roger: as always, an action will cause a reaction. Letting the Chinese government oppress its people will come back to the US to bite it (in the butt). Not only financially, but also regarding its image abroad: when foreigners hear Americans speak about the need for Democracy, freedom, etc., they cannot help but laugh out loud. They will remind Americans of what is happening in China and with whose help. It is - in other words - a good way to make yourself look extremely hypocritical.

Now say that the Chinese will, in the long run, get rid of the Communist Party and turn their country into a Democracy. How do you think their attitude towards the US will be if American companies helped the Chinese government to oppress and even to arrest them?

So, Roger has decided not to write about the Olympics, “unless the subject at hand is censorship and repression in China.” The reason: although bloggers do not possess that much power, the Chinese government seemingly is afraid for us / negative attention and coverage. It does its very best to make itself look as good as possible. The OG are considered to be of great importance for China. “Fortunes are being spent to make Beijing ready. This is their moment to emerge as a global power on an equal footing, at least, with the West.”

In other words, “attacks now on their lack of freedom would be a great embarrassment to them.” So, “From this moment on, I will not write about the Beijing Olympics unless the subject at hand is censorship and repression in China. And – unless the Chinese government changes its policies – when the Olympics do come, I will not blog about them at all. I will take the opportunity to write as often as I can about the lack of Freedom of Speech on the Chinese Internet and on the suppression of bloggers and journalists in that country.”

I had to think about this for a short while - mostly because I am a sportsfan, and a big one at that - but I have decided to join Roger in his protest. I hope that many others join us as well. This is of the utmost importance. Perhaps it is not as effective as when the NYT and WaPo would do this, but I think that if hundreds of bloggers join this protest, we might make a difference. If we do not influence the policies of the Chinese government, we might at least let the Chinese people know that our thoughts are with them.

'Made in China'-Bad News for the USA

The "Made in China" tag now adorns a very large part of the goods imported into the USA.Cheap goods of every kind had kept the American consumer very happy until now.Suddenly he is jolted with the revelation that the toys he buys for his kids have dangerously high levels of lead, the foodstuffs and toothpaste are contaminated,the chopsticks are unclean and recycled after use and even the clothes that he buys have traces of hazardous chemicals.

The harm being done to the US consumer does not end here.China has combined a ruthless totalitarian political system with modern capitalistic tools to create an economic powerhouse.It enjoyed a trade surplus of about $230 billion with the US in 2006.In the first six months of 2007 the surplus is $117 billion.It has built up about $1.3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves and has had the courage to threaten the US that it had better behave otherwise it will dump its huge holding of US treasuries causing the US dollar to crash.The financial consequences of such an action for the US economy could be similar to a nuclear attack on its major cities.

So why does the US put up with all this from China?This is because US policy makers are living in a fools paradise.They think that if they continue to engage China in this manner it would lead to economic and ultimately political reform in that country.It is this obsession with political reform that has proved to be the undoing of the US right across Asia from Vietnam to Iraq and now China.The US would do well to understand that it will not be able to bring democracy to China in a hundred years.After that who cares!

The present economic policies being followed vis-a-vis China may have benefited a few corporations but have clearly harmed the nation as a whole.Large scale shifting of jobs to a country where they are performed in 'slave labor' conditions has caused a loss of US credibility as well.There is no longer any talk of Human Rights and so on.

China is now so confident that it thumbs its nose at the US when asked for simple economic reforms such as the revaluation of its currency, the yuan, which today is the most manipulated currency in the world.Although there have been four revaluations this year, they are nothing but minor adjustments and done only after China has ensured that they are not going to alter the situation on the ground.

In any case China enjoys such a huge cost advantage versus the US that even if it were to allow the yuan to rise considerably higher it would still be able to outsell any other country in the US.Then again the artificially sustained cost advantage ensures that China need not import any goods which it produces itself.It has built up huge production capacities to feed both the domestic and the export markets.It only needs to import essential raw materials and hi-tech items needed to improve quality and also to enhance the capabilities of its armed forces.

So it is time the US policy makers sat back and analyzed the benefits if any of its present policies."Made in China" may not be good news to the US for more reasons than one.

Save On Power Bills Using Wind Energy!

The fastest growing source of energy today is Wind Power. It is plentiful, renewable , widely distributed, clean and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. The intermittency of wind seldom creates problems.

At the end of 2006 worldwide capacity was about 75,000 megawatts. Denmark produces about 20% of its electricity using wind power!

Wind power is produced through wind turbines. Large wind farms are set up to feed national electric grids. Small turbines can be used to power homes, especially in remote areas.

So how do residential wind turbines work? They are installed on tall towers and convert wind power into electricity which is compatible with the homes' electrical system. It is used alongside power from a local utility. When the wind speed is below 10mph all the electricity is purchased from the utility. As wind speed increases generation increases and use of power from the utility is reduced. At top speed you may produce a surplus which can be sold to the utility. Modern systems do not require batteries.

Wind turbines can lower your electric bills by as much as 50-90%. In the long run your savings will depend upon the initial cost and the amount of electricity you use. The wind speed in your area is the most important factor.

Taking the average consumption of about 780 kwh per household per month a wind turbine of around 15 kilowatts should suffice.

A wind turbine is a large device and works best on a property size of about 1 acre. The average wind speed in the area should also exceed 10 mph. The majority of the units in the USA are installed in the Northeast and the Midwest. A typical wind turbine is not noisy enough to disturb people.

Federal regulations require utilities to connect with small wind energy systems. No expenses are needed in the wiring of the house. The utility will install a separate meter to calculate purchase of power from you.

A typical tower is at least 80 feet high. Several types of towers are available. It is best to buy one which is easy to maintain.

Small turbines are available for as little as $6,000. They require little regular maintenance, last about 20 years and are completely automatic.

Investment is recovered in about 10 years and thereafter power is free. Dealers will install the system for you. However large savings can be made by installing it yourself.

The industry is set to install a whopping 3,000 MW of capacity in the US in 2007 with almost two-thirds of it in Texas.

Wind power is increasingly being considered as an essential part of the solution to global warming.

China Challenging US Armed Forces?

In November 2006, a Chinese submarine stalked the US aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk off the Japanese coast. Fortunately things did not get out of hand.

This incident has prompted fears in the US that one day China may pose a threat to the US with a naval armed race in the Pacific.

In the past, Chinese military strategy relied on its two major assets. A large territory which allowed them to retreat thereby over stretching the invading forces, and very large land based armies, which could then overwhelm the enemy with sheer numbers.

However the recent demonstration of US hi-tech warfare in Iraq has brought about a rethink in military strategy the world over. The speed of the American advance, combining land, air and naval forces has thrust modernization of the armed forces to the forefront in every nation with powerful armed forces.

Nowhere is this new military thinking more relevant than to China because a rapid enemy advance would wipe out any advantage of size.

The Chinese have clearly gone on the offensive. The launching of an anti-satellite missile is part of the process. The US naturally perceives this as a threat to its satellites on which it is dependent for communication, navigation and aerial surveillance.

The Chinese defense budget has jumped to $45 billion from just $15 billion in 2000. The actual figure could be much higher. It is developing new submarines also. The US feels that its dominance in the Pacific since World War II is at risk.

Chinese experts are quick to point out that the country dependent on maritime trade has to have a strong navy to protect its trading interests. China is very vulnerable in the straits of Malacca. Most of China's imported oil passes through these waters linking the Indian and Pacific oceans. China feels that it needs a strong enough naval deterrence to prevent a blockade of these vital straits.

Although the Chinese insist that the buildup is for self defense, the fact remains that it won't be long before it is able to confront the United States in this region.

Is Religion Neccessary?

Human beings need rules to organize themselves. Idealistic rules have been found to be the best because they do not preach oppression and take care of the poor and the weak. This is where religion comes in, as a system of practices and beliefs for the welfare of the people at large. It also seeks to provide answers and reasons for phenomena for which there is no rational explanation. Where reason ends, faith begins.

Religion as a way of life served mankind very well in the past. It was an important source of welfare activities like education, medical aid and charity for the needy.

But with the development of the modern state most of these welfare activities have been taken over by the state, and with the development of scientific thinking and consequent development in science and technology many of the religious beliefs are under attack. In modern democratic societies with high levels of education another trend has emerged and that is the splitting up of the old monolithic religious organizations into smaller groups or smaller churches . Now there is a choice available to people, so to speak.

Americans wisely rejected the concept of a government established religion which has divided many countries worldwide. Separation of the church and the state was ordained by the First Amendment to the US Constitution which provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...."

For these reasons America has been a fertile ground for new religions and has provided a safe haven to many sects from overseas. The Mormon and Christian Science Churches, The Amish to name a few. Hinduism and Islam are also growing religions. Religious prejudice is rare, and interfaith cooperation is commonplace.

The vast majority of the American population is religious and are regular visitors of their respective churches.

The benefits of a religious society are quite obvious. Studies have clearly brought out the inverse relationship between religiosity and say, delinquency and crime, although the complexity of the relationship between the two continues to be debated.

Americans strongly favor increased government aid to the poor. Americans also tend to favor the idea of faith based groups receiving government funding to render social services. This idea is however hotly debated as many are concerned about the influence of government on particular religious organizations as also the impact of these organizations on the people they are trying to help.

Religious motivation clearly generates models of service which are more personal and respectful than other models. President Bush has gone ahead and even established a federal office of faith based and community action. Religion is clearly necessary and is going to stay.

Cost of Fighting Terror

Incidents like 9/11 happen rarely, but the after effects are felt for years to come. Apart from the colossal loss of life and the emotional tragedy that followed is the immense financial burden that it has placed on the system.

Local communities are the worst hit. They are having to spend huge amounts of money on things like improved computer systems, communication equipment and things like latest bomb disposal equipment, protective gear against chemical warfare and various monitoring systems. In most cases the initial purchase of equipment has been financed by federal grants but maintaining these systems requires more money than the local councils can afford. It is feared that with the passage of time grants from the Department of Homeland Security are likely to get scarcer. Since 2003 the department has already distributed about $23 billion to local governments for equipment and training to fight terrorism.

Even if the money continues to flow, critics argue that the long term impact of the buildup in defense and security spending is huge. The danger is that it will drain the economy, hold down private investment and consumer spending and force radical choices that may destabilize domestic political peace.

On the other hand supporters of the program point out that defense spending was only 3.3% of GDP in 2006 which is well below 1980's average of 5.8% and also less than the 4.1% average of the 1990's. It is argued that advances in technology will help keep costs within manageable limits.

But governments, the world over have always underestimated the cost of fighting wars, because it is always easier to get into one than to get out, and by the time you total up the final bill it is way beyond estimates.

The fact remains that fancy technology needs expensive upgrades and costly training. Moreover one is never certain that he is spending enough on security. It may not be long before even nations are faced with the same financial difficulties which face local communities today in their fight against terror.

How Americans View Muslims Today?

Muslims first came to the US sometime in the 18th century. Their population has increased steadily and according to the PEW Research Center it now stands at about 2.3 million. About a third of US Muslims are of African descent. They are not usually born muslims but converted to Islam.

What is disturbing is the growth in anti-Muslim feelings in the US. Recent surveys suggest that about 46% of the US population held a negative view of Muslims. This is a full 7% higher than the number of persons with similar views immediately after 9/11. So what is the reason for this increase? In part it is due to media reports and statements by leaders. It is also due to a heightened sense of insecurity and fears of a terrorist attack amongst the people at large.

The events of the past few years have had a profound effect on the psyche of the ordinary American. Although most people still feel that Islam is OK as a religion and it has only been hijacked by extremists, many now feel that the civil liberties of Muslims in the US need to be curtailed. They favor steps such as compulsory registration by Muslims and also racial profiling.

It is interesting to note as far back as in 1946, that is about 55 years before 9/11 the Military Intelligence Division of the US War Department identified Islam as a threat to World stability.

In order to counter this growing anti-Muslim feeling the Council on American-Islamic Relations is proposing to launch a massive media campaign.

It has been suggested that terrorist activities are a result of an ongoing struggle within Islam, between the Jihadis and the Moderate Muslims. But sadly there seems to be no way of clearly identifying the two.

For the time being the US is a nation at war. How long it will take for things to return to normal is unfortunately not possible to predict with any degree of certainty.

Accurate Climate Model Developed

Researchers at the Hadley Center have developed a more accurate model to predict climate variations. Called the Decadal Climate Prediction System it offers predictions for the coming decade rather then a century ahead. This makes it a more relevant tool for policy planners.

The accuracy of this model is based on detailed observations and a better understanding of how the oceans influence the climate. This has been made possible by basically superior data collection through satellites.

The assessment of climate change remains the same, that is global warming will continue. Average temperatures will likely to be 0.3 C higher in 2014 then in 2004.

Most importantly much of this climate change can be tackled by changing human consumption patterns. Increased use of renewable energy, reducing fossil fuel consumption, increasing energy efficiency and reducing deforestation are meaningful steps.

What is interesting is that it is possible to check greenhouse emissions at a reasonable cost. But, governments will have to play a more important role in doing so. Affordable technology is available. What is needed are proper economic incentives and other policy incentives by various governments acting in concert rather than independently of each other.

Are minorities taking over the U.S

Today one in three persons living in the US is a minority. That makes it a population of about one hundred million. California reported the highest minority of about 20.7 million or roughly 21% of the nation's total. Four states and the District of Columbia are 'majority- minority.'

The minority population is made up of both legal and illegal immigrants. Hispanics are the largest, about 42% of the minority group. Minorities typically have higher birth rates with the Hispanics alone accounting for almost half of the national population growth.

Most of the increase in the population of the minorities is fuelled by an immigration boom. Almost all the immigrants legal or illegal come to the US in search of jobs. The continuing economic boom and the exploding job market are sufficiently attractive to the immigrants. A porous border with Mexico and soft laws regarding illegal immigrants encourage such attempts.

However some counties are now in a mood to fight back. Local councils are persuading businesses to stop hiring illegal immigrants and are even trying to prevent landlords from renting apartments to them. English is also being declared the official language by some as it is felt that this would discourage non English speaking people from settling there.

All this is OK but given the fact that the nation is now well and truly addicted to cheap, non unionized labor, it will require a great effort to stop illegal migration to the US.

The Perfect Suntan - Why and How ?

Sunbathing is an extremely pleasant and socially desirable pastime.It offers tremendous health benefits as the skin produces vitamin D in response to sun exposure.It is estimated that about 50,000 deaths occur every year in the US alone due to insufficient vitamin D.Sunbathing also strengthens the bones and is beneficial in some skin conditions.It also reduces the risk of some types of cancer.Although excessive exposure to sunlight can cause skin cancer the balance is clearly in favor of reasonable exposure to sunlight.

The modern craze for the perfect suntan can be traced to two French celebrities, designer Coco Chanel and singer Josephine Baker who turned it into a fashion statement in the 1920's.This doesn't mean that you go out and fry yourself on the beach but being exposed to the sun for some time a few times a week has positive benefits.A two week vacation in the Mediterranean gives you as much sunlight as an entire year in the UK.Doctors are increasingly excited by the new evidence in the sun's favor.

So how does one go about getting a great tan. Its easy. A beach holiday is no longer that expensive. There are a large number of time share options available which make a beach house very affordable.If you live in the suburbs you can lounge around in your lawn or your backyard.If you live in the city it is slightly more difficult to get a natural tan, although there are a large number of artificial methods available.If you have a good roof make full use of it.This last option seems to be losing popularity after 9/11 and because high real estate prices have made free access to the roof in high rise buildings difficult due to objections from unsporting landlords.

Anyway it is now well established that being out in the sun makes you both look as well as feel great.If you take a bit of care you can just go out and have fun in the sun.