Category Archives: Foreign Affairs

Your Device’s Afterlife

We are far enough into the digital age that massive electronic waste is a pervasive problem for even the developing world.

The churn of new and discarded personal phones, tablets, computers, TVs, navigation devices, etc. means the average person is generating toxic trash on a regular basis, and there are no indications of a slowdown.

Recycling of glass, metal, and paper has been a long-term success because there are manufacturing buyers for those materials (one aluminum can is worth about 2 cents). The market can support not only the costs of collection and cleaning, but also efforts to educate the public and to advertise for the desired action of using bins and cooperating with local governments.

According to the EPA, in 2016 recycling created:

  • 681,000 jobs
  • $37.8 billion in wages; and
  • $5.5 billion in tax revenues.

As for electronics, CDs can be shredded into polycarbonate plastic, but buyers are hard to find. Still, businesses exist for collecting old and unused electronics. Many also perform data wipes and so offer a security benefit.

OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) are obligated to help with cleanup in the life cycle. This is enforced by Extended Producer Responsibility laws, which are administered mostly by states; for manufacturers to sell in that state, they must take some responsibility for end of life recycling or disposal. The amount of assistance required is usually determined by market share.

Collections are even moving to the developing world; phone manufacturers use revenue from new phone sales to collect and ship phones from places like Africa to be properly disposed of elsewhere.

Closing the Loop is a Dutch company working on e-waste in Cameroon, Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia:

Initially, the idea was to generate revenue entirely from the value of commodities recovered from phones in Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda. But the economics of that approach didn’t work because it was so costly to try to set up new collection networks. “We lost money there,” said (founder) De Kluijver. “Let’s just call it ‘learning money.’” In 2016, the business pivoted toward the current offset model with corporate backing.

Closing the Loop partners with local stores and churches.

“(Large corporations) funding the initiative can then promote the fact that for each new product they put on the market, an old one has been collected and processed through proper channels. (As of early 2019), the effort has collected roughly 2 million devices...

“I believe the telecom industry is the first global industry that could really become waste free,” De Kluijver said. “The more customers we support, the more waste we can collect. And that allows us to become more and more a metal producer – an urban mining one.”

We applaud the electronics manufacturers practicing corporate responsibility AND maintaining brand integrity. Furthermore, we recognize that EPR laws are an example of positive government oversight, happening in the US at the state level — much preferable to federal. Without these regulations, the tragedy of the commons would result in dystopian metal waste dumps all over your neighborhood and in your water. Happy shopping!

Is American Tourism Hurting Cuban-Americans?

For Cuban-Americans who had family property confiscated by the Castro regime 60 years ago, the new wave of American tourism to the island is not a positive development.

A number of US cruise lines are docking in Havana and Santiago, whose ports were once privately owned by Cuban citizens.  Today, those families of the former owners, who have since come to the US, want the financial benefits they believe they have a right to.  And because the US government is allowing such water travel, they are asking the US government to help recoup.

Within the Helms-Burton Act of 1996,  Americans or Cuban-Americans whose properties were stolen after the 1959 Revolution are allowed to sue.  However, that part of the agreement is not enforced.

In retaliation for the claims, Cuba is asking for, “hundreds of billions of dollars for its counter claims, which it says are the accumulated damages of more than a half-century of U.S. hostility.”

This makes Cuban-American reimbursement seem very unlikely. Another point: Cuban exile benefits in America are already notoriously cush. So, dear reader, do you think these two families have claim to the port revenues?

Euro Refugees: Separating Human Interest from Economic Interest

One of the causes of the rise of the alt-right in western Europe may be the equivocating of economics and compassion when it comes to deciding to whom to grant political asylum. To quote one European politician, “Save the people who need saving. But don’t tell me they’re good for the labor market.”  80% of refugees in Germany are jobless, and the conservatives there have noticed. However, the human rights angle can be successful if truthful–is the applicant truly in danger, and is the government clear on why that matters to a free society?

This longform article from The Atlantic focuses on Germany’s handling of refugees since 2015, especially those from Africa and the Middle East.  While it also addresses the roots of xenophobia, as well as the German processes that could be emulated in the US, its most interesting content describes how economic opportunists are weeded out from the applicant pool, so as not to take the the spot of someone truly needy.

To get a sense of these (refugee applicant) interviews, imagine the following game. You meet someone who claims to be from your hometown, and you have to decide whether he’s telling the truth. You can ask him anything you like: Which high school did you attend? What color is city hall? Do people get around on buses or trains? Is there a McDonald’s? If so, where? The other player may prepare however he wishes, memorizing facts, maps, events. If he convinces you, he gets a million dollars. If he doesn’t convince you, he dies. You have 10 minutes to decide.

Germany also has fascinating uses of technology to verify these narratives–not just passports but mobile phone history, facial recognition, and speech patterns.

What do you think?  How rigorous should a country be in weeding out the criminal or the merely poor, from the displaced and the destitute?

Give Us This Day Our Daily Mile

Many schoolchildren in the UK have adopted the “daily mile,” with positive results.  In addition to regular physical education, all students who are physically able must go outside together when called, in whatever they are wearing, and run around the neighborhood.

The movement started in Scotland and is most popular there. While empirical evidence of it reducing obesity and boosting concentration is still pending, students’ reported enthusiasm for more activity is enough to aid growth. One boy remarked that the exercise, “makes me feel like I’m proud of myself.”

Next stop, USA!?


Renzi’s Resignation

“Italy is not only the past.” stated Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on this week’s 60 Minutes. We featured him, and fellow interviewee Virginia Raggi, on the blog a month ago.

Today, his referendum to drastically reduce the number of parliamentarians was defeated.  He will resign, as he promised to do in the event of rejection of his idea.

MC applauds his vivacity and looks forward to his future accomplishments.  All young (and old)  politicians should be so bold, principled, willing to fight for appreciation–and to keep moving if it is not forthcoming.



Why do educated, charming, well-balanced young Americans almost exclusively pursue careers outside of governance?


Last week, the Obamas hosted Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi  as their final state dinner honoree.  Dubbed, “the Justin Trudeau of Italy,” he is the youngest prime minister (age 41) since Italy became a unified nation in 1861.

Fun fact:
At 19, Renzi was a contestant on Italy’s version of “Wheel of Fortune” and appeared on five episodes until he wrongly guessed “navi” (ships) instead of “neve” (snow) — a mistake that bugs him to this day. The show’s host teased him mercilessly, but Renzi walked away with more than 48 million lire, about 25,000 euros or $27,500 today.
Source: The Washington Post

Italy is coming to be known for its young politicians. Virginia Raggi, now 38, is the first female mayor of Rome.  Her platform was anti-corruption, and she opposed Rome’s 2024 Olympic bid, believing it would worsen the existing debt. Can you remember a country not wanting the Olympics? A bold choice from a bold woman.

La candidata M5s a sindaco di Roma Virginia Raggi durante la conferenza stampa nella sede dell'Associazione Stampa Estera, Roma, 25 febbraio 2016. ANSA/ MASSIMO PERCOSSI

She may or may not have been a contributor to this summer’s public trash woes, but absolutely no one has been able to keep up with the Mafia’s successful sanitation.

I bring these politicians to your attention to emphasize the contrast between most current US politicians, and the glamour and vibrancy possible in the future.

How did we get here–where the presidential candidate of public desire is a spry 68?  Is government navigation really so dependent on “life experience” that high mileage of scandal and drudgery is the job prerequisite? Can you name a respected national politician under 40?

Perhaps more to the point, why do educated, charming,  well-balanced young Americans almost exclusively pursue careers outside of governance?  Why is the career so repulsive to the normcore? And for the few moderate people who do attempt to be elected, why do they fail?

Is it the media’s fault, for creating an unbearable burden of interminable prying and spin?  Partly.  But foreign media and paparazzi is possibly more salacious than ours.

The voting-public’s?  Well who is that exactly?  To quote an idol, there is no such thing as society. There are only individual men and women.

As a conservative, it concerns me that those who give millions to candidates (and/or lead the businesses that give millions to candidates) pick our small pool of viable potential presidents, senators, and congressmen for us.  Why are the very wealthy such poor judges of character? There must be something about delusion and the ability to accumulate wealth that go hand-in-hand.

Unless and until we reform US campaign financing, our candidates will likely continue to be subpar.

Inside the Olympic Medical Clinic: The Global Need for Dental Care and Imaging Services

Rio’s Olympic Village clinic has been busy treating not just athletes, but their entourages as well–especially those from underdeveloped nations where first world care is hard to come by.

At halfway through the games, here was the clinic by the numbers:

-1,730 eye exams
-1,410 prescription glasses
-1,000 dental checks
-450 dental X-rays
-300 customized mouth guards

Daurio Speranzini Jr., of GE Latin America, says they will administer an MRI for athletes who have long-term, chronic pain.  Technologists have been conducting 60 MRI scans a day, in addition to X-rays and Ultrasound.  The Russian, Ukranian, and African visitors are especially in need of diagnostic imaging, as it may not be available to them back home.

And lastly–no Zika has presented.