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$8K Personal Satellite Kit
“Bringing the do-it-yourself market to a whole new level, a California firm is selling kits to build a personal satellite — and get it into space — for $8,000. The program, called TubeSat, is the brainchild of Randa and Roderick Milliron, a Mojave, Calif.-based couple who’ve been developing a bare-bones, low-cost rocket system for the past 14 years. Selling flights as a package deal with satellite-building kits is proving to be a winning combination, with more than a dozen customers signed up to fly on the debut launch early next year. The first of four suborbital test flights is scheduled for August and there are customers for those as well. The kit contains the shell components for a satellite including a printed circuit board, solar cells, batteries, a combination transmitter-receiver, microcomputer, electronic components, blueprints and a structural shell that’s about the size of a one-liter bottle. Most TubeSat customers, so far, are universities. “There’s been a massive number of shelved experiments,” Milliron said, caused by a dearth of low-cost launch systems. “This is an opportunity for the academic community to fly affordably.” Interorbital’s rocket, called the Neptune, will place up to 32 TubeSats and 10 slightly larger off-the-shelf spacecraft called CubeSats into orbit about 192 miles above Earth. At that altitude, the spacecraft will orbit for about six weeks, then burn up in the atmosphere. Launches will take place from the island of ‘Eua, located in the Kingdom of Tonga, in the South Pacific.”

Includes Free Launch (32 at a Time)
“A TubeSat is designed to function as a Basic Satellite Bus or as a simple stand-alone satellite. Each TubeSat kit includes the satellite’s structural components, safety hardware, solar panels, batteries, power management hardware and software, transceiver, antennas, microcomputer, and the required programming tools. With these components alone, the builder can construct a satellite that puts out enough power to be picked up on the ground by a hand-held HAM radio receiver. The TubeSat also allows the builder to add his or her own experiment or function to the basic TubeSat kit. As long as the experiment or function satisfies the volume and mass restrictions, it can be integrated into the TubeSat. These restrictions provide a unique intellectual challenge for the experiment or function designer. TubeSats are also available as Double TubeSats, Triple TubeSats, or Quadruple TubeSats. Prior to launch, each TubeSat is inserted into one of the rocket’s 32 Satellite Ejection Cylinders. They never come into contact with the other TubeSats. Once on-orbit, the satellites are released according to a pre-programmed timing sequence. The timing sequence is designed to prevent satellite clustering. Interorbital expects to launch a set of 32 TubeSats per month. If the buyer pays the full cost of the TubeSat kit upfront, he or she is immediately placed on a launch manifest according to the order in which the payment was received. TubeSat buyers also have the option of paying half of the cost upfront, then paying the other half of the cost at a later date or when the TubeSat is completed and ready for integration into the launch vehicle. With this option, the builder will be placed on a launch manifest according to the time when full payment is received.”

See Also: CubeSats
“A standard CubeSat is a motherboard of invention: About a 4-inch (10-centimeter) block of equipment that tips the scale at roughly 2 pounds (1 kilogram). A handful are already in space and with other launches planned for later this year. Peep inside a CubeSat and you’ll spot off-the-shelf circuitry in the familiar form of microprocessors and modem ports, and other microchip devices typically used in cell phones, digital cameras and hand-held Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite navigation units. A CubeSat can be built for under $25,000, although they typically come in at the $30,000 to $40,000 price range – still a bargain. The “going-rate” per CubeSat launch is in the $40,000 range. Universities have an inherent advantage in developing “disruptive” space systems, Swartwout contends, and that is the freedom to fail. In fact, he added, three of the six CubeSats placed in orbit in 2003 were either never contacted or failed very early. “Experimental failure is a basic element of university life, and from the university’s perspective, a failed spacecraft is not necessarily a failed mission,” Swartwout said. Swartwout explained that the tremendous reductions in the size and cost of electronics are making possible “disposable” probes that function for only weeks, but whose very low cost and short development cycle make their launch and operation affordable. There is talk about flying tethers on the spacecraft, as well as toting along inflatable packages – both techniques viewed as a way to hasten a CubeSat’s reentry and lessen worry about adding to already orbiting space clutter. CubeSat innovators also envision the small spacecraft deployed from the International Space Station – chucked out of an airlock. Then there is the prospect of CubeSats toting biological or hardware experiments that reenter and parachute to Earth. “I hope the CubeSat is like the personal computer…you don’t know what the heck you’re going to do with this little box when you build it or what markets will be enabled. But it’s so cool, you’ve got to do it,” Twiggs concluded.”

Open Source Arduino Sats

Cellphone + Toy Parts
“Instead of investing in their own computer research and development, engineers at the NASA Ames Research Center are looking to cellphones and off-the-shelf toys to power the future of low-cost satellite technology. The smartphone in your pocket has about 120 times more computing power than the average satellite, which has the equivalent of a 1984-era computer inside. “You can go to Walmart and buy toys that work better than satellites did 20 years ago,” said NASA physicist Chris Boshuizen. The biggest challenge of sending cellphones and toys into space is whether the parts can get up there without shaking apart and work in a vacuum at extreme high and low temperatures. To do some preliminary testing, two Nexus One cellphones caught rides on two rockets on July 24 that launched 30,000 feet into the atmosphere at a maximum speed of mach 2.4 (about 1,800 miles per hour). One of the rockets crashed into the ground after its parachute failed, but the other made it back with the cellphone unscathed. Both cellphones were able to record the acceleration of the rocket using their built-in accelerometers, and the undamaged phone captured 2.5 hours of video of the event through a hole in the side of the rocket. “Everything that didn’t break is a piece of data,” said volunteer engineer Ben Howard. “We know that the batteries didn’t break and that the computer worked the whole time.” If the cellphones ultimately get used to power satellites, they will probably be sent up without a screen and with a different battery to make them lighter. Next, the team will build a stabilizing mechanism for the satellite using the cellphone, $100 toy gyroscopes and parts similar to those of the Mindstorms Lego, so the satellite can orient itself in space. By installing three spinning gyroscopes and getting them to spin at different velocities, a satellite can move in any direction. The same technique is currently used on many satellites, but requires multimillion dollar technology. The whole goal of the project is to make satellites cheap and affordable, so that anyone with bit of time and a couple of thousand dollars can send their own satellite into space. Upgrading the computing power of satellites using cellphones would mean increased satellite capabilities, possibly including artificial intelligence. “We’re not sure yet exactly what people will want to do with their satellites, and that’s the point,” said NASA education specialist Matt Reyes. “What can you imagine doing with your phone in space?””

Retrieving the Nexus One cell phone from the rocket post-launch

Previously on Spectre : Sat Hacks
Consumer Satellite Use
Russians Launching Satellites From Subs
Brazilian Satellite Squatters
Earth Will Have Rings


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What’s Lying Around

Earthship n. 1. passive solar home made of natural and recycled materials 2. thermal mass construction for temperature stabilization. 3. renewable energy & integrated water systems make the Earthship an off-grid home with little to no utility bills.

Biotecture n. 1. the profession of designing buildings and environments with consideration for their sustainability. 2. A combination of biology and architecture.

Tires + Bottles + Dirt = House

“Made from used tires, discarded bottles, cardboard, Styrofoam and other waste materials, Mr. Reynolds designs and builds these homes to be essentially energy self-sufficient. Earlier this month, Mr. Reynolds and two builders went to Haiti intending to survey the area to see how they could help. “There was nothing but tents, nothing but cleanup,” Mr. Reynolds says of what he saw in Port-au-Prince. Instead of just surveying the city, Mr. Reynolds and his team ended up building. A non-governmental organization called Grassroots United had gotten Haitian children to collect tires and plastic bottles from the tent camps. Mr. Reynolds himself had one arm in a cast because of rotator cuff surgery, and the two builders with him both got sick from the water and heat. “The three of us were worthless, pretty much,” he says. But 40 locals, ranging in age from four to 50, built an earthship in just four days under his guidance. “They had nothing to do. They were all eager to learn, and it turns out all the skills we could do, they could do.” The earthship, just 120 square feet, is made of 120 tires packed with dirt – such tires are the main building blocks of any earthship. Designed to be earthquake- and hurricane-resistant, the Haiti earthship is not completely finished. Mr. Reynolds plans to return in October to add plaster to the exterior and a screened-in veranda with flush toilets, as well as outfit it for solar energy and water collection. He hopes the home will be used as a prototype for more in Haiti, an example of what’s possible. Earthships could be a boon for a place like Haiti, says Mr. Reynolds, where even the capital city has little infrastructure like sewage or electricity. “The most substantial thing I saw down there was a plywood shack,” he says. When he returns to Haiti in October, he plans to find a site where he can build a small village of earthships. “It doesn’t have to be in the city because there is nothing in the city anyway,” he says of the lack of infrastructure. “These buildings would provide their own power, their own water, their own sewage (systems).” Most important, Mr. Reynolds says, is a sense of empowerment instilled in those who helped. “They built the building!” he says. “The real thing that shows it’s possible for them to do it is that they did it.””

See Also : Post-Tsunami

Q: Where did you get the idea to use trash?
A: Walter Cronkite did a piece on clear-cutting timber in the Northwest. Even in 1969, he predicted massive deforestation would result in wood scarcity and would affect our oxygen levels, things that have become big issues today. Charles Kuralt did another piece on beer cans being thrown all over the streets and highways. So I started playing with beer cans and trying to make them into building blocks. It was a way to kill two birds with one stone. I later decided to try a different material and thought of the mountains of discarded tires that can be found everywhere. Pack them with dirt and they will store energy. Plus they’re strong and resilient, so I built an entire house out of them. I went on to add photovoltaic panels, windmills, water collection and onsite sewage treatment.

Q: And you went overseas with your ideas?
A: For a while… I went wherever there was a desire to use my ideas. After the earthquake and tsunami in 2004, an architect [from the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean] that lived right in the middle of the disaster saw our Web site and asked us to come. Their whole community was just wiped out. We paid the local kids to bring us bottles, and we built a house out of them that collects its own water. We gave the plans to the engineers.

Non-Biodegradables as Building Materials

“A sustainable home must make use of indigenous materials, those occurring naturally in the local area. For thousands and thousands of years, housing was built from found materials such as rock, earth, reeds and logs. Today, there are mountains of by-products of our civilization that are already made and delivered to all areas. These are the natural resources of the modern humanity. These materials and the techniques for using them must be accessible to the common person in terms of price and skill required to use them. The less energy required to turn a found object into a usable building material the better. This concept is also called embodied-energy.

The Primary Building Block: Rammed-Earth encased in Steel Belted Rubber: The major structural building component of the Earthship is recycled automobile tires filled with compacted earth to form a rammed earth brick encased in steel belted rubber. This brick and the resulting bearing walls it forms is virtually indestructible.

Aluminum Cans and Glass/Plastic Bottles: These ‘little bricks’ are a great, simple way to build interior, non-structural walls. Aluminum can walls actually make very strong walls. The ‘little bricks’ create a cement-matrix that is very strong and very easy to build. Bottle can create beautiful colored walls that light shines through.

Resilient: Earthquakes are an issue in many parts of the world. Any method of building must relate to this potential threat. Since earthquakes involve a horizontal movement or shaking of the structure, this suggests a material with resilience or capacity to move with this shaking. Brittle materials like concrete, break, crack and fracture. The ideal structural material for dealing with this kind of situation would have a ‘rubbery’ or resilient quality to it. This kind of material would allow movement without failure.

Low specific skill requirements: If the materials for easily obtainable housing are to be truly accessibly to the common person they must, by their very nature, be easy to learn how to assemble. The nature of the materials for building an earthship must allow for assembling skills to be learned and mastered in a matter of hours, not year. These skills must be basic enough that specific talent is not required to learn them.”


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concentrations of algal blooms that contribute to dead zones / photo: NASA

as in : ‘How Big is the Dead Zone this Year?’
“The 2010 forecast released by NOAA predicts that the dead zone could measure between 6,500 and 7,800 square miles, equivalent to the size of Lake Ontario. The Gulf dead zone forms each spring and summer off the Louisiana and Texas coasts when oxygen levels drop too low to support most life in bottom and near-bottom waters. Farmland runoff containing fertilizers and livestock waste is the main source of the nitrogen and phosphorus that fuel the growth of algae blooms, that in turn create the dead zone. The five largest Gulf dead zones on record have occurred since 2001. The biggest occurred in 2002 and measured 8,484 square miles. The official size of the 2010 Gulf dead zone will be announced following a NOAA-supported monitoring survey led by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium being held from July 24 through Aug. 2.”

“A review of research into these so-called “dead zones,” in the journal Science, finds that the number of dead zones has roughly doubled every decade since the 1960’s. The study authors tallied 405 dead zones in coastal waters worldwide today, affecting about 95,000 square miles (245,000 square kilometers) of ocean.”

Massive Methane Bubble Caused Explosion
“A report into last month’s blast said the gas escaped from the oil well and shot up the drill column, expanding quickly as it burst through several seals and barriers before exploding. Now scientists are confronting growing evidence that BP’s ruptured well is expanding oxygen-depleted “dead zones” where fish and other marine life cannot survive. In two separate research voyages, independent scientists have detected what were described as “astonishingly high” levels of methane, or natural gas, bubbling from the well site, setting off a chain of reactions that suck the oxygen out of the water. In some cases, methane concentrations are 100,000 times normal levels. The finding presents a new challenge to scientists who so far have been focused on studying the effects on the Gulf of crude oil, and the 5.7m litres of chemical dispersants used to break up the slick. Such high concentrations, it is feared, would trigger the growth of microbes, which break up the methane, but also gobble up oxygen needed by marine life to survive, driving out other living things. Joye said the methane was settling in a 200-metre layer of the water column, between depths of 1,000 to 1,300 metres in concentrations that were already threatening oxygen levels. A Texas A&M University oceanographer issued a similar warning last week on his return from a 10-day research voyage in the Gulf. John Kessler recorded “astonishingly high” methane levels in surface and deep water within a five-mile radius of the ruptured well. His team also recorded 30% depletion of oxygen in some locations.”

Pollution vs Pollution : Add More Fertilizer?
“Over the past few years, researchers have found that dozens of different kinds of marine bacteria have a healthy appetite for oil. Water samples from the Gulf of Mexico are showing signs that marine bacteria are already pitching in to help with clean-up efforts, and that populations of these bacteria in this area are likely to boom as they feast on the oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Crucially, R/V Pelican happened to be in the area when Deepwater Horizon blew up. That means the team could immediately collect water samples to test for bacterial populations from areas that were threatened by the spill but had not yet been contaminated. “Now we plan to see how the microbial community evolves when you give it oil,” says Grimes. He hopes to screen bacteria from oil-affected water for the DNA of oil-eating enzymes, and use this to determine their species. In previous research he found that Vibrio became the dominant type of marine bacteria off the south-eastern US as oil tanker traffic increased after the 1970s. Atlas, who managed the “bioremediation” of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, says the bacterial process will be helped if fertilizer is added to the water, as then the oil-eaters will have the nitrogen and phosphate they need to grow. Fertilizer has already been used to aid the bacterial breakdown of oil that has hit the shore, but it could also help bacteria in the open sea if it is added to the detergents that are being used to disperse the oil. The fertilizer lodges in the surface of the oil droplets created by the detergents, he says – right where the bacteria can use them.”

Chemosynthetic Community Locations in the Gulf of Mexico

Oil Eaters (This Has Come Up Before)
“The deep seabed was once considered a biological desert. Life, the logic went, was synonymous with light and photosynthesis. The sun powered the planet’s food chains, and only a few scavengers could ply the preternaturally dark abyss. Then, in 1977, oceanographers working in the deep Pacific stumbled on bizarre ecosystems lush with clams, mussels and big tube worms — a cornucopia of abyssal life built on microbes that thrived in hot, mineral-rich waters welling up from volcanic cracks, feeding on the chemicals that leached into the seawater and serving as the basis for whole chains of life that got along just fine without sunlight. In 1984, scientists found that the heat was not necessary. In exploring the depths of the Gulf of Mexico, they discovered sunless habitats powered by a new form of nourishment. The microbes that founded the food chain lived not on hot minerals but on cold petrochemicals seeping up from the icy seabed. Today, scientists have identified roughly one hundred sites in the gulf where cold-seep communities of clams, mussels and tube worms flourish in the sunless depths. And they have accumulated evidence of many more — hundreds by some estimates, thousands by others — most especially in the gulf’s deep, unexplored waters. “It wouldn’t surprise me if there were 2,000 communities, from suburbs to cities,” said Ian R. MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University who studies the dark ecosystems. The world’s richest known concentration of these remarkable communities is in the Gulf of Mexico. The life forms include tube worms up to eight feet long. Some of the creatures appear old enough, scientists say, to predate the arrival of Columbus in the New World. Now, by horrific accident, these cold communities have become the subject of a quiet debate among scientists. The gulf is, of course, the site of the giant oil spill that began April 20 with the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drill rig. The question is what the oil pouring into the gulf means for these deep, dark habitats, in contrast to the slow, diffuse, chronic seepage of petrochemicals across much of the gulf’s northern slope. Many factors, like the density of oil in undersea plumes, the size of resulting oxygen drops and the potential toxicity of oil dispersants — all unknowns — could grow into threats that outweigh any possible benefits and damage or even destroy the dark ecosystems.”



Charter Cities
“The secret to turning a poor nation into a rich one can’t be found in a World Bank report. It wasn’t hatched in the corridors of the International Monetary Fund, either. It came from the British Empire. That is one way, at least, of interpreting Stanford economist Paul Romer’s new plan for turning economically backward countries like Cuba into engines of growth like China. Experts have long known that the traditional tools of development don’t work: free trade, foreign investment, and charity have failed as many countries as they’ve helped. The rot in a dysfunctional country is at its core—in the laws, institutions, and informal rules that govern daily life. How to fix a problem so fundamental? Let a rich country take over part of a poor one. The hope, says Romer, is that the superior norms of the developed country will take root abroad. One problem, admits Romer, is the parallel between charter cities and colonialism. Great Britain, for instance, would surely have qualms about taking over a few hundred acres of coastline in Ghana, where the legacy of slavery is still deeply felt. Romer says the similarities are surface level only—there’s no coercion involved in a charter city since it would be founded on empty or near-empty land, and anyone who lives there would do so by choice. Charter cities would only be considered in countries that welcome them. But the colonial parallel would certainly still rankle some. One way to mitigate the PR problem would be to let a group of rich countries administer the charter area; that way, no single nation could be accused of exploiting the host.”

“Halfway through the 12th Century, and a long time before economists began pondering how to turn poor places into rich ones, the Germanic prince Henry the Lion set out to create a merchant’s mecca on the lawless Baltic coast. He seized control of a fledgling town called Lübeck, had Niclot beheaded on the battlefield, and arranged for Lübeck to become the seat of a diocese. A grand rectangular market was laid out at the center of the town; all that was missing was the merchants. To attract that missing ingredient to his city, Henry hit on an idea that has enjoyed a sort of comeback lately. He devised a charter for Lübeck, a set of “most honorable civic rights,” calculating that a city with light regulation and fair laws would attract investment easily. The stultifying feudal hierarchy was cast aside; an autonomous council of local burgesses would govern Lübeck. Onerous taxes and trade restrictions were ruled out; merchants who settled in Lübeck would be exempt from duties and customs throughout Henry the Lion’s lands, which stretched south as far as Bavaria. The residents of Lübeck were promised fair treatment before the law and an independent mint that would shelter them from confiscatory inflation. With this bill of rights in place, Henry dispatched messengers to Russia, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Merchants who liked the sound of his charter were invited to migrate to Lübeck. The plan worked. Immigrants soon began arriving in force, and Lübeck became the leading entrepôt for the budding Baltic Sea trade route, which eventually extended as far west as London and Bruges and as far east as Novgorod, in Russia. Perhaps the only thing more remarkable than Lübeck’s wealth was the influence of its charter. As trade routes lengthened, new cities mushroomed all along the Baltic shore, and rather than develop a legal code from scratch, the next wave of city fathers copied Lübeck’s charter, importing its political and economic liberties. The early imitators included the nearby cities of Rostock and Danzig, but the charter was eventually adopted as far afield as Riga and Tallinn, the capitals of modern Latvia and Estonia. The medieval world had stumbled upon a formula for creating order out of chaos and prosperity amid backwardness. Lübeck ultimately became the seat of the Hanseatic League, an economic alliance of 200 cities that lasted nearly half a millennium.”

Laboratories for Innovation
Q. Let’s move to logistics. Who might grant the charter for one of these cities and see that it will be enforced?
A. Different charters could specify different arrangements. This means that we could try many new types of innovative structures. If a national government has sufficient credibility, it could start a charter city within its own territory and administer it from the national capital. This is, in effect, what some countries have done when they have created special economic zones with rules that are different from the ones that prevail in the rest of the country. You could imagine that a country like India might try something like this to speed up urbanization by cutting through many local rules that get in the way of urban development. In poorer countries that don’t have the same kind of credibility with international investors, a more interesting but controversial possibility is that two or more countries might sign a treaty specifying the charter for a new city and allocate between them responsibilities for administering different parts of the treaty. Let me give you a specific example. Right now, the United States and Cuba have a treaty that gives the United States administrative control in perpetuity over a piece of sovereign Cuban territory, Guantanamo Bay. I’ve suggested that Canada and Cuba sign a new treaty in which Canada would take over administration of this area, bring Canadian rule of law there, and let a city grow up that could bring to Cuba some of the advantages that Hong Kong brought to China.

Q. It all sounds great as a theoretical exercise, but honestly, don’t your colleagues tell you that something like this will never happen?
A. They do say this, which is actually kind of ironic when you line it up with the other things they say. They recognize that the construct of a charter city is something that could make everyone better off. They admit that there is no technological or economic constraint that keeps us from building many of these. Then they say that for political reasons, it will never happen. They tell me that you can’t change politics; you can’t overcome nationalism; there is no way for countries to work together to extend the reach of good rules. Then these same economists suggest that we should just stick to business as usual. We should offer conventional economic advice and assume that political systems will naturally follow our advice when we point to something that could make everyone better off. But of course, they have already revealed that they don’t believe this. What’s going on here is a kind of self-censoring. Economists seem to think that we should propose things that are acceptable and that political systems will pursue, but that we should avoid proposing or even discussing things that are controversial or politically incorrect. I think we’d do our jobs better if we just said what’s true without trying to be amateur politicians.

students do homework under the parking lot lights at G’bessi Airport in Guinea


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How to Calculate Your Resource Wealth
“The Alaska dividend, which Hammond helped create while governor, is “an existing basic income guarantee in the world today. Without a permanent fund dividend program,” Hammond said. “Alaska will face the same fate as Nigeria.” There, the World Bank estimates that $296 billion flowed in and out of the government’s treasury during its oil boom, “leaving them worse off than they were before,” Hammond said. The pattern has been repeated around the globe where countries have come into an oil windfall, he said. “Iraq is but the latest example. What better way to induce a capitalistic, democratic mindset among Iraqis? Far better than a few privileged kleptocrats living in opulent splendor while others grovel in squalor,” Hammond said. In Iraq, the economist Smith recommended following Alaska’s precedent but avoiding Alaska’s mistakes, Hammond noted. Those mistakes were two-fold: Not putting all public resource wealth into the fund, and not reserving the income solely for dividends unless approved by a vote of the people. “Public resources should belong directly to the public through mechanisms such as Alaska’s permanent fund … It is a model governments all over the world would be well-advised to copy.”

or Brazil
“The Brazilian National Congress approved Law 10.835 that institutes an unconditional Citizen’s Basic Income, sanctioned by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in January 8, 2004. The law says that it will be established step-by-step, starting with those most in need, until the day when everyone in Brazil will have that right. Everyone in Brazil, including the foreigners living here for more than five years, regardless his/her social or economic condition, will receive R$ 40 per month. In a family with six members, the total will be R$ 240. With the progress of the country, this amount will be raised, we shall say to R$ 100, someday to R$ 500, R$ 1,000 and so on. It will not be denied to anybody. It will be unconditional.”

Step One : Locate Resources
“The sheer size of the deposits – including copper, gold, iron and cobalt as well as vast amounts of lithium, a key component in batteries of Western lifestyle staples such as laptops and BlackBerrys – holds out the possibility that Afghanistan, ravaged by decades of conflict, might become one of the most important and lucrative centres of mining in the world. According to a Pentagon memo, Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium”, with one location in Ghazni province showing the potential to compete with Bolivia, which, until now, held half the known world reserves.”

Determine True Costs
“Gold, silver, platinum and other precious metals for free. Land for $5 an acre or less. It’s pretty much the same deal miners have had for 129 years, ever since Congress approved the General Mining Law in 1872. Modern mining methods have left the West pockmarked by huge craters, some so large that they are visible from space. Under terms of the antiquated law, miners cart away everything from gold to kitty litter from public lands — minerals worth about $11 billion in the last eight years alone. Not only does the U.S. Treasury get nothing, Congress has granted miners a tax break worth an estimated $823 million in the coming decade. Over the years, public lands the size of Connecticut have been made private under terms of the 1872 law, all for $2.50 to $5 an acre, though not all of it has been used for mining. Like the better-known Homestead Act, which offered free land to anyone willing to farm it, the mining law was intended as an incentive to those willing to push West and settle the frontier. That frontier was closed long ago, but the mining law remains on the books and very much in use. Not all critics of the 1872 law call for reform because of environmental damage. Some are galled by the fact that the law, breaking with tradition, allows miners to dig a fortune from public land without giving a share to the American citizens who own it. In 1920, Congress removed oil, natural gas and other minerals that could be used for fuel from the 1872 Mining Law. Instead, the government would lease the rights. And in 1977, Congress decreed that miners of coal on federal land would have to pay a royalty of 8 to 12.5 percent, and clean up after themselves. The government in the past decade has collected $11.08 billion from companies taking coal, oil, and natural gas, plus $35.8 billion in rents, bonuses, royalties and escrow payments for offshore oil and gas reserves. Still, hard-rock miners pay nothing for the gold, silver, platinum, copper and other minerals they get. Walish, the manager of Cambior’s Top of the World project, joins many in the mining industry in warning, “If massive royalties are put on federal land, you’re going to see a lot less mining.”

Distribute Equally
“The notion of diverting oil wealth directly to citizens, perhaps through annual payments like Alaska’s, has become that political rarity: a wonky idea with mass appeal, from the laborers in Tayeran Square to Iraq’s leaders. American officials have projected that a properly functioning oil industry in Iraq will generate $15 billion to $20 billion a year, enough to give every Iraqi adult roughly $1,000, which is half the annual salary of a middle-class worker. ”A fund like Alaska’s is the best way to prevent one kleptocracy from succeeding another in Iraq,” Mr. Clemons said. ”It would go a long way to curbing the cynical belief that Americans want Iraqi oil for themselves, and it would give more Iraqis a stake in the success of their new country. It would be the equivalent of redistributing land to Japanese farmers after World War II, which was the single most important democratizing reform during the American occupation.” Thomas I. Palley, an economist at the Open Society Institute, proposed dividing a quarter of the oil revenue each year among all adults in Iraq. Oil companies would not be directly affected by an oil fund, since they would be paying the same taxes and fees no matter what the government did with the money. But they could benefit indirectly if citizens eager for higher payments pressed the government to increase production and open the books to outside auditors. ”The oil industry likes working in countries with dedicated oil funds and transparent accounting, because there’s less loose money to corrupt the government. Corruption is bad for business,” Mr. West said, ”because it creates instability. In places like Alaska and Norway, people support the oil industry because they see the benefits. In places like Nigeria, they see all this wealth that doesn’t benefit them, and they start seizing oil terminals.”

Namibia Pilot Program
“Haarmann is talking about Namibia the way a doctor discusses a patient’s symptoms. “Here,” he says, scrolling through his statistics, “more than two-thirds of the population live on less than $1 a day. The basic income scheme,” says Haarmann, “doesn’t work like charity, but like a constitutional right.” Under the plan, every citizen, rich or poor, would be entitled to it starting at birth. There would be no poverty test, no conditions and, therefore no social bureaucracy. And no one would be told what he or she is permitted to do with the money. The concept is being discussed in many countries of the world. In Germany, it has gained the support of politicians across the political spectrum, including Dieter Althaus, the conservative governor of the eastern state of Thuringia, and businessmen like drugstore chain owner Götz Werner. More than 50,000 German citizens have signed a petition to the German parliament. The pilot project is taking place in Otjivero, a settlement of 1,000 inhabitants in a hot and dusty region 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Windhoek. A few weeks ago, Dirk Haarmann published his annual report: economic activity in the village has grown by 10 percent, more people are paying tuition and doctors’ fees, health is improving and the crime rate is down. Only 3 percent of the gross domestic product, or €115 million, would be enough to provide a basic income for all Namibians.”