209 (22 April 2015)

Welcome to week 209, the start of the fifth year of The Invisible Forces Weekly.  The articles below caught my attention this week.  Please note that what are intended to be relatively objective “briefs” are preceded by dashes (——–), whereas additional material or relatively subjective comments are preceded by asterisks (********).  The links to articles preceded by [SR] require a subscription to be read in their entirety, although complete articles may frequently be found by a title search.

You can find a pdf of this issue, a cumulative pdf for issues 1-208, and a cumulative pdf for issues 209-present at: https://sites.google.com/site/brucedeanlarson/the-invisible-forces.

(16 April 2015): “Thinking Man’s Marijuana” (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-04-15/book-review-weed-the-people-by-bruce-barcott)

——–[A review, by Drake Bennett, of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America (2015), by Bruce Barcott.]  “For a century, grass has been a political lightning rod and cultural badge.  With legalization, it’s also a commercial enterprise, and not only for the Chapo Guzmans of the world.  Weed the People is, in other words, a business book.  But marijuana isn’t just any business. . . . Millions of people are in prison today for selling or transporting or simply possessing it.”  In the end, Bruce Barcott, a self-described “coastal liberal,” has “written a love letter to cannabis capitalism that Rand Paul could endorse.”

********You can learn more about the book at: http://www.amazon.com/Weed-People-Future-Marijuana-America/dp/1618931407/.

(16 April 2015): “How Factory Workers Learned to Love Their Robot Colleagues” (http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-factory-workers-learned-to-love-their-robot-colleagues-1429141801)

——–[This is the A-Hed (quirky) article.]  Forty years ago when a welding robot was installed in a Navistar truck plant in Ohio it was called “Scabby” to reflect concern that worker jobs were being jeopardized.  “Today, the brick-walled truck plant is closed, and the hostility toward machines is thawing.  Giant bots capable of doing the work of several people have earned respect after decades of coexistence and, in the process, are getting new, more admiring nicknames.”  Representative is the Tesla Motors plant in Freemont, California, where robots are name after Marvel superheroes like Wolverine.  Automakers Ford, GM, Nissan, and Toyota also name their robots, with Godzilla a favorite.  According to Minsoo Kang, a humanities professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, although we don’t name things like scissors, we do start giving them names “when they start performing human-like actions.”

********Another aspect, perhaps, of corporate personhood.

(17 April 2015): “China Readies $46 Billion for Pakistan Trade Route” [SR](http://www.wsj.com/articles/china-to-unveil-billions-of-dollars-in-pakistan-investment-1429214705)

——–China is proposing to spend $46 billion on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as part of its “One Belt, One Road” initiative.  In doing so it sees a historic opportunity to redraw the geopolitical map, building critical infrastructure that could kick-start economic growth and open new trade routes between China and Central and South Asia.  A cornerstone of the project will be to develop the Pakistani port of Gwadar, a warm-water port run by the Chinese on the doorstep of the Middle East.”  The main part of the project “would provide electricity to energy-starved Pakistan, based mostly on building new coal-fired power plants.”  At present, Pakistan “is beset by hours of daily scheduled power cuts because of a lack of supply, shutting down industry and making life miserable in homes—a major reason for the election in 2013 of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who promised to solve the electricity crisis.”

********You can learn more, and view a map showing the port of Gwadar, Pakistan and its relationship to China at: http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2015/04/21/china-makes-multibillion-dollar-down-payment-on-silk-road-plans/. This blog relates China’s plans for “two interconnected infrastructure networks to better connect its economy with those in the rest of Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe.  One is the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt,’ and overland route running through Central Asia, and the other is the ‘21st Century Maritime Silk Road,’ which will traverse the South China Sea and Indian Ocean.”  China is definitely making huge, coordinated investments in light of a plan.

(17 April 2015): “Changing NC alcohol laws not as simple as ABC” (http://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2015/04/16/changing-nc-alcohol-laws-simple-abc/25898203/)

——–“Bills under consideration in the state General Assembly would make it easier for liquor to sell their products directly to the people who drink them.  But the state’s traditionally conservative attitudes about alcohol and powerful groups that have stakes in keeping restrictions in place look to be high hurdles.”  A wide variety of bills have been filed this year, but none “have advanced beyond the House Alcoholic Beverage Control Committee.  The liquor bills are parked, along with scores of others on a wide variety of topics, in the Senate Rules Committee . . . The committee is sometimes a graveyard for bills Senate leadership does not want to consider.”

********The article points to apparent anomalies and inconsistencies with regard to alcohol legislation in North Carolina, while also pointing to some of the institutional structures that enable them to persist.  Regarding legislation and economic development, the comparison of the near-contemporary origin of a distillery in Gatlinburg, Tennessee and one in Asheville, and their current number of employees, was especially noteworthy.

(20 April 2015): “Canada’s Own Oil Pipeline Problem” (http://www.wsj.com/articles/canadas-own-oil-pipeline-problem-1429479110)

——–[Tache Reserve, British Columbia.]  “A proposed 730-mile pipeline to ship Canadian oil to a West Coast port brings with it the promise of 4,000 or more jobs along a route that would run through impoverished indigenous communities.  But Chief Justa Monk, who runs a reserve with an unemployment rate that hits 70% wants none of them—and pledges to block the pipeline alongside the reserve’s territory.”  The so-called Northern Gateway pipeline would move oil from Alberta to the coast of British Columbia bound for Asian markets but it cannot proceed without addressing aboriginal concerns.  “Centuries of thorny legal issues surrounding aboriginal land rights became more complex in June, when a ruling from Canada’s top court gave natives new leverage over companies operating on their traditional lands.”  Adding to the complexity is Canadian demography—natives currently comprise 4.3% of Canada’s population, a percentage that is projected to grow to 5.3% by 2030.  In comparison, in the U.S. Native Americans comprise a current 1.7% and projected 2.3% of the population.

********A clear example of the interdependence of the invisible foot and the invisible hand, with a good dose of the invisible handshake thrown in.  The cultural dimension, however, is not clear cut, as is shown by the words of Carissa Duncan, 22, whose parents were forced to attend boarding schools as part of Canada’s attempt to assimilate aboriginals.  She remarks, “They tell us to go back to the old ways, but there is nobody to teach us the old ways.”

(21 April 2015): “Norway Angers Investors in Pipeline Network” (http://www.wsj.com/articles/norway-angers-investors-in-pipeline-network-1429560142)

——–“In 2011, Canada’s largest pension fund plowed about $760 million into a state-controlled Norwegian pipeline network, citing the country’s transparent regulatory environment and expecting the project to deliver stable returns.”  But one thing the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board didn’t foresee was Norway’s decision to “cut the rates the pipeline can charge for carrying natural gas” by 90%.  Now the Board, along with other investors, is suing Norway, saying that the “change in tariff infringes their rights.”

********The article makes the point that the change is likely to make investors less willing “to work with the Norwegian government in the future.”  You can learn more about the Gassled pipeline complex at: http://blogs.wsj.com/briefly/2015/04/21/5-things-to-know-about-the-gassled-court-case/.

(21 April 2015): “Utilities’ Profit Recipe: Spend More” (http://www.wsj.com/articles/utilities-profit-recipe-spend-more-1429567463)

——–At a time when the price of natural gas has plunged by 39%, “Families in New York are paying 40% more for electricity than they were a decade ago. . . . One big reason: utilities’ heavy capital spending.”  In contrast to most companies that “generate revenue, deduct their costs, and are left with profits, which can be expressed as a percentage of revenues—the profit margin.  Regulated utilities work differently.  State regulators usually set an acceptable profit margin for utilities, and then set electric rates at levels that generate enough revenue to cover their expenses and allow them to make a profit.”  Currently, “it is common for utilities’ allowable profit to be capped at 10% of so of the shareholders’ equity that they have tied up in transmission lines, power plants and other assets.  So the more they spend, the more profits they earn.”  At a time when “electricity consumption is growing, utilities  can spread hefty costs across their customers without increasing rates.  But since 2008, power sales haven’t been growing fast enough to absorb the impact of all the added spending.”  In light of these new developments and the higher rate increases being requested by utilities, “Some states are pushing back.”  According to Audrey Zibelman, chair of the New York Public Service Commission, “Business as usual has become unaffordable.”

(21 April 2015): “Rich Smuggling Trade Fuels Deadly Migration Across Mediterranean” [SR](http://www.wsj.com/articles/rich-smuggling-trade-fuels-deadly-migration-across-mediterranean-1429576356)

——–“The deaths of more than 1,000 Italy-bound migrants in the Mediterranean Sea in the last week are the product of a multi-million-dollar people-smuggling enterprise run by Libyan militias, tribesmen and bandits, law-enforcement officials and migrant-aid groups say.”  The economic collapse of Libya has contributed to these drownings, with militias and tribes racing to find money “to fuel conflict there.”  According to Arezo Mlakooti, the director of migrator research for Paris-based Altai Consulting, “Various armed groups in Libya are aggressively advertising their services to would-be migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and Syrians fleeing conflict in their country, presenting the collapse of order in Libya as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to secure safe passage to Europe.”

********Some additional information about the most recent drownings can be found at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/about-700-believed-dead-in-shipwreck-off-libya-says-unhcr-1429432174.  If you click on the picture labelled “The Crossing,” you can view a two-minute video of one man’s journey from African country of Eritrea to the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa.

(22 April 2015): “Tech Companies Struggle to Get World on Internet” [SR](http://www.wsj.com/articles/tech-companies-struggle-to-get-world-on-internet-1429631689)

——–“In 2013, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt predicted that the entire world would be online by the end of the decade.  Yet the Internet’s reach among new users is actually slowing.”  Although as many as “900 million people are expected to join the world’s online population by 2017, which would increase the total to 3.6 billion.  That would leave roughly four billion people offline.”  Some, like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg, have thought that “poverty was the biggest barrier” to further expansion of the Internet, is that many do not see the value of being connected to it.  Thus there is the necessity for “Internet foot soldiers,” i.e., people “to teach why the Internet is valuable.”

********Indonesia has the third-largest offline population, following India and China, provides an example of how knowledge about the Internet is spread.  You can view a four-minute video about that spread at: http://www.wsj.com/video/in-indonesia-the-new-face-of-internet-evangelism/31E48409-D30D-48F9-BBC9-C066096A1591.html.

May you have a good week!

Bruce

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