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FAREED ZAKARIA, (CNN) The midterm election results were just one more reflection of the pervasive discontent in the United States these days. Two-thirds of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, and yet if one looks at the rest of the world, what’s striking is how well the United States is doing relative to other major economies.

President Obama says the United States has produced more jobs in its recovery than the rest of the industrialized world put together. Why is this? Many believe the American economy has some inherent advantages over its major competitors, a more flexible structure, stronger entrepreneurial traditions, a more demographically dynamic society.

Well, along comes a fascinating new book that says you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Peter Zeihan’s “The Accidental Super Power” begins with geography, pointing out that America is the world’s largest consumer market for a reason — rivers. Transporting goods by water, he points out, is 12 times cheaper than by land which is why civilizations have always flourished around rivers.

And America, Zeihan calculates, has more navigable waterways, 17,600 miles worth, than the rest of the world put together. By comparison, he notes, China and Germany have about 2,000 miles each, and all of the Arab world has just 120 miles of river.

But that’s just the beginning. The world’s greatest river network directly overlies the world’s largest piece of Arable land, the American Midwest, he writes. Add to this America’s many and unequal deep water ports which you need in order to get goods to and from the rest of the world. Chesapeake Bay alone boasts longer stretches of prime port property than the entire continental coast of Asia from Vladivostok to Lahore, writes Zeihan.

All of these factors combined have created the world’s largest consumer market, surplus savings and a dynamic unified economy. It’s also remarkably self-sufficient. Imports made up 17 percent of the American economy in 2012 according to the World Bank. Compare that to Germany’s 46 percent or China’s 25 percent. And this number in the U.S. will fall as America imports less and less foreign oil.

Zeihan emphasizes the degree to which America’s energy revolution has insulated it from the rest of the world. Thanks to efforts to extract shale, North America has much of the energy it needs at home. As the world gets messier, he argues, there are fewer and fewer compelling reasons for America to pay blood and treasure to stabilize it.

I’m not as sure as Zeihan that America’s advantages are simply structural. If one looks at the last five years, again in comparative terms, American public policy actually comes out looking impressive. To combat the global economic crisis of 2008, Washington acted speedily and creatively on three fronts, aggressive monetary policy, fiscal policy, and reform and recapitalization of the banking sector.

Every other rich country did less and has seen a more troubled return to normalcy.

Now since the response to the crisis, Washington has been paralyzed and polarized, but this is not the entirety of American politics. Beyond the beltway, mayors and governors are reaching across party lines partnering with the private sector and making reforms and investments for future growth.

When Tocqueville wrote about America in the 1830s he was struck by the bottom up vitality of its towns and villages. So as we approach Thanksgiving, let’s bear in mind that the genius of America is still alive, whatever most Americans might think.

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Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, a 450- mile long volcanic trench ripped open by shifting tectonic plates, is known as the cradle of mankind for the million-year- old remains of human forebears discovered there.

Oil drillers say the area also holds a string of fields that could make East Africa’s largest economy a major energy producer. The U.K.’s Tullow Oil Plc (TLW) and Canada’s Africa Oil Corp (AOI). found crude at two wells last year and now plan as many as 11 more test wells in 2013. The valley could yield 10 billion barrels, Tullow estimates, enough to supply Kenya for three centuries or the U.S. for about 18 months.

Posted March 16, 2013 by tmusicfan in Politics, Quote of the Day

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Fareed Zakaria:

But, first, here’s my take. Later this year, the Obama administration will have to make a decision on whether to green light the Keystone pipeline; that’s the 2,000-mile pipeline that would bring oil from the tar sands of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

I’m sure you’ve heard all the dire warnings about it. But another way to think about this is to ask what would happen if the project did not go forward?

The Department of State released an extremely thorough report that tries to answer just this question. It concludes, basically, that the oil derived from Canadian tar sands would be developed at about the same pace whether there was a pipeline or not.

In other words, stopping Keystone might make us feel good, but it really won’t do anything about climate change. Why? Well, given the demand for oil in the United States, Canadian producers would still get Alberta’s oil to the refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.

There are other pipeline possibilities, but the most likely method is by train. The report estimates that it would take daily runs of 15 trains with about 100 tanker cars each to carry the amount planned by TransCanada, the company.

That’s a large increase, but one likely to be met. The increases in oil transported by rail in the United States are already staggering. Carloads of crude oil on trains doubled between 2010 and 2011, then they tripled between 2011 and 2012.

And remember, research shows that moving oil by train produces much higher emissions of carbon dioxide than with the oil to flow through a pipeline.

Canada could also transport the oil to Asia, where demand is booming. Right now that seems a distant and costly prospect, but having visited Alberta recently, I can attest that Canadian businesspeople and officials are planning seriously for Asian markets, especially since they now regard American policy as politicized, hostile and mercurial.

Also, if we don’t use oil from Alberta, we need to get it the oil from somewhere else, Venezuela, Mexico, Saudi Arabia or California. Some of these oils are heavy crude, and processing, refining and burning them is believed to be even more harmful to the environment than burning Canadian oil sands.

To the extent that it makes us use more coal for electricity generation, that’s a big step backwards for the environment. For many of these reasons, the scientific journal, “Nature,” which has long a leader on climate change, argued in an editorial that Obama should approve the Keystone project.

Many environmental groups are taking an approach towards this project that resembles the way the United States government fights the war on drugs. They attack supply rather than demand.

In this case, environmentalists have chosen one particular source of energy, Alberta’s tar sands, and are trying to shut it down. But as long as there is demand for oil, there will be supply. The far more effective solution would be to try to moderate demand by putting in place a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system.

Ideally, we would use the proceeds from these taxes to fund research on alternative energy, which we badly need to do.

Opponents of Keystone say the facts are less important in this case, it is the symbolism that matters. We have to stop this big project.

Symbolism does matter. If we were to block this project, one that is no worse than many other sources of energy, one that rebuffs our closest trading partner and ally, that spurns easily accessible energy in favor of Venezuelan or Saudi crude, it would be a symbol, a terrible symbol.

It would be a symbol that emotion had taken the place of analysis and that ideology now trumps science on both sides of the environmental debate.