Archive | September, 2010

Of Marines and Sunbeams

28 Sep

Photo via Flickr

It’s going to be (almost) all sunshine for a US Marine company currently gearing up to deploy in Afghanistan. In a historic first, they’ll be powering much of their gear with solar energy, which could cut their fuel consumption in half, reports Wired’s Danger Room. Seems the brass was pleased with the results of a test this summer where the unit ran much of a mock Forward Operating Base on sunbeams.

It’s not that the Pentagon has gone all tree-huggy. Their very practical motivation is cutting costs and saving lives. Each soldier in Afghanistan uses 22 gallons of fuel a day, and delivering each gallon to the war zone costs between $300 and $400. And those convoys make great target practice for the Taliban. Plus, it’ll help the Pentagon beat Pepsi and Intel in the race to America’s top user of renewable energy.

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Suicide Bomber City Revisited

22 Sep

Jenin's Homegrown Heroes

I reported a while back on how the West Bank city of Jenin, once a  hotbed of Palestinian radicalism, is now being touted as a model of Israel-Palestinian cooperation – but that the progress there could easily collapse if Palestinians don’t start seeing some tangible benefits. The world’s greatest news magazine, The Economist, has a more recent dispatch from Jenin in their current issue, which reports some encouraging updates.

To wit: “Israel now lets cars as well as people go through the Jalameh terminal, the gateway between Jenin and the Galilee district of northern Israel …  Hundreds of Israeli Arabs drive across every day, ending Israel’s economic boycott. Around Jenin Israel has lightened its footprint; many checkpoints are unmanned. On a good day you can drive from Jenin to Ramallah, the Palestinian administrative capital, without a single Israeli soldier demanding papers.” There’s even a new outdoor movie theater.

But things are still might dicey. The economy is still feeble, and a promised joint Israeli-Palestinian industrial park unbuilt. There’s still plenty of loathing for Israel, too: Locals cheered when Hamas terrorists killed four Israelis at the start of the latest peace talks. And I can’t say I hold out much hope that those talks are going to produce any real results – make that ANY results. But at least they’re talking instead of shooting.

Donating Food, Wasting Money

21 Sep

Who does US food aid help most?

Here’s another one for the annals of pseudo-altruistic aid: turns out that for every dollar of US taxpayer money spent on food aid for Africa, a dollar goes into the pockets of the American shipping companies that take it there. That’s the finding of a new study from Cornell University as reported by IRIN News.

In a nutshell,  75 percent of US food aid is required to be shipped on privately owned, US registered vessels, even if they do not offer the most competitive rates. Result: lots of cash wasted to subsidize the American shipping industry.

“About 20 years ago the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent investigative arm of Congress, looked at the costs of shipping food aid in US-flag vessels rather than using cheaper foreign ships, and estimated that it cost $150 million each year. Another report in 1994 put the cost as high as $200 million a year”, adds IRIN. And how much more might they save by buying food from closer-by sources, rather than shlepping our surplus stuff halfway across the world?