When America polices the world, everybody loses

America treats the world like a board game. That's a problem.

JEFFREY SACHS: Power doesn't stick. You can try to impose your will on other countries and peoples, but without legitimacy what you end up with is unrest, instability, turmoil and the "need" — quote unquote — for violence to repress that turmoil. We've had, for the last century, an incredible upheaval. Indeed, I think we're still living in the aftermath of World War I. The Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, was not a treaty of peace but a treaty of mess. It gave new imperial powers, for example, to the British Empire in the Middle East and to France. And it's in those very places the remnants of the Ottoman Empire in Iraq or in Syria or in Lebanon or in Palestine, now Israel, we have the continuing conflicts. The settlements that were made at the end of World War I were settlements for European imperial powers, not settlements for self-government, not the war to end all wars as Woodrow Wilson, the U.S. president at the time, promised the American people. In other words, power rather than justice was the message at the end of World War I.

So the wars that we have in the Middle East today were played first in the post-Ottoman wars that Britain and France engaged in in their new imperial roles in the Middle East. The United States took over those empires, in essence, after World War II, when Britain and France retreated from empire, the United States expanded its military reach. Americans never like to think of America as having an empire, but empire means keeping political control over others. We generally have not done it in U.S. history by direct ownership of other places – though we've had our colonies and still have them – but rather through manipulating foreign governments, toppling governments we didn't like. Think of Iran, where in 1953 the United States, the CIA that is, and British intelligence conspired to overthrow the elected Iranian government of Prime Minister Mossadegh and to install a police state under the Shah, who lasted until 1979, until the revolution came and threw a hated despot over — a despot associated with the United States.

The point is the attempt to impose rule on others in an era of literacy, communication, spreading capacity is not only immoral but it is doomed to fail. And the United States' efforts to impose the U.S. will in Iraq, for example, by overthrowing Saddam Hussein in 2003, or in Libya by overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, or the attempt — remember when President Obama said Assad must go in Syria? I scratched my head and said how can an American president say that the Syrian president must go? Well, we did. President Obama issued a secret CIA order, a presidential finding that the CIA should cooperate with Saudi Arabia to overthrow the Syrian government. That didn't turn out too well because the Syrian government had friends — Russia, Iran — which defended Assad's regime and even though the U.S. was there trying to destabilize it what happened, not surprisingly, was catastrophe! The flood of arms and jihadists into that little country, violence, and the flood of millions of refugees out of the country.

My response is a big: "Duh." What did you expect when you try to overthrow a country in the Middle East in a region of such instability? But U.S. policymakers often don't get it because the instinct is: we're exceptional. We control. We get to say who is in power. And read our journalism – The Wall Street Journal has editorial after editorial: Change that regime! What kind of foreign policy is that, that the United States tells other countries what kind of governments to have? Well, it is a foreign policy doomed to fail.

  • Make no mistake, says Jeffrey Sachs, America is an empire. The end of World War I and the Treaty of Versailles put the United States on a trajectory to exercise political control over foreign governments and topple world leaders on a whim, which, Sachs reminds us, is quite crazy.
  • "Remember when President Obama said Assad must go in Syria?" says Sachs. "I scratched my head and said: How can an American president say that the Syrian president must go?"
  • When America gets topple-happy, the result is catastrophe — just look at Syria, Libya, Iraq, Iran. Overreach of power by the United States destabilizes global politics, threatens U.S. national security, and sets a ticking time bomb for violence and civil war. This kind of foreign policy is doomed to fail.



Impossible Burger hits grocery stores on Friday

Can Impossible Foods beat other brands — like Beyond Meat and Tyson — in the war to dominate the alternative meat industry?

Impossible Foods
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The Impossible Burger will be available in 27 Gelson's Markets stores in Southern California starting Sept. 20.
  • Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods sell plant-based burgers in restaurants, but only Beyond Meat sells products in grocery stores.
  • Tyson could begin to edge out these smaller companies with its unique meat product that contains plant and animal components, appealing to health-conscious "flexitarians."
Keep reading Show less

How do 80-year-old 'super-agers' have the brains of 20-somethings?

Most elderly individuals' brains degrade over time, but some match — or even outperform — younger individuals on cognitive tests.

Mind & Brain
  • "Super-agers" seem to escape the decline in cognitive function that affects most of the elderly population.
  • New research suggests this is because of higher functional connectivity in key brain networks.
  • It's not clear what the specific reason for this is, but research has uncovered several activities that encourage greater brain health in old age.

At some point in our 20s or 30s, something starts to change in our brains. They begin to shrink a little bit. The myelin that insulates our nerves begins to lose some of its integrity. Fewer and fewer chemical messages get sent as our brains make fewer neurotransmitters.

As we get older, these processes increase. Brain weight decreases by about 5 percent per decade after 40. The frontal lobe and hippocampus — areas related to memory encoding — begin to shrink mainly around 60 or 70. But this is just an unfortunate reality; you can't always be young, and things will begin to break down eventually. That's part of the reason why some individuals think that we should all hope for a life that ends by 75, before the worst effects of time sink in.

But this might be a touch premature. Some lucky individuals seem to resist these destructive forces working on our brains. In cognitive tests, these 80-year-old "super-agers" perform just as well as individuals in their 20s.

Just as sharp as the whippersnappers

To find out what's behind the phenomenon of super-agers, researchers conducted a study examining the brains and cognitive performances of two groups: 41 young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 and 40 older adults between the ages of 60 and 80.

First, the researchers administered a series of cognitive tests, like the California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT) and the Trail Making Test (TMT). Seventeen members of the older group scored at or above the mean scores of the younger group. That is, these 17 could be considered super-agers, performing at the same level as the younger study participants. Aside from these individuals, members of the older group tended to perform less well on the cognitive tests. Then, the researchers scanned all participants' brains in an fMRI, paying special attention to two portions of the brain: the default mode network and the salience network.

The default mode network is, as its name might suggest, a series of brain regions that are active by default — when we're not engaged in a task, they tend to show higher levels of activity. It also appears to be very related to thinking about one's self, thinking about others, as well as aspects of memory and thinking about the future.

The salience network is another network of brain regions, so named because it appears deeply linked to detecting and integrating salient emotional and sensory stimuli. (In neuroscience, saliency refers to how much an item "sticks out"). Both of these networks are also extremely important to overall cognitive function, and in super-agers, the activity in these networks was more coordinated than in their peers.

Default Mode Network

Wikimedia Commons

An image of the brain highlighting the regions associated with the default mode network.

How to ensure brain health in old age

While prior research has identified some genetic influences on how "gracefully" the brain ages, there are likely activities that can encourage brain health. "We hope to identify things we can prescribe for people that would help them be more like a superager," said Bradford Dickerson, one of the researchers in this study, in a statement. "It's not as likely to be a pill as more likely to be recommendations for lifestyle, diet, and exercise. That's one of the long-term goals of this study — to try to help people become superagers if they want to."

To date, there is some preliminary evidence of ways that you can keep your brain younger longer. For instance, more education and a cognitively demanding job predicts having higher cognitive abilities in old age. Generally speaking, the adage of "use it or lose it" appears to hold true; having a cognitively active lifestyle helps to protect your brain in old age. So, it might be tempting to fill your golden years with beer and reruns of CSI, but it's unlikely to help you keep your edge.

Aside from these intuitive ways to keep your brain healthy, regular exercise appears to boost cognitive health in old age, as Dickinson mentioned. Diet is also a protective factor, especially for diets delivering omega-3 fatty acids (which can be found in fish oil), polyphenols (found in dark chocolate!), vitamin D (egg yolks and sunlight), and the B vitamins (meat, eggs, and legumes). There's also evidence that having a healthy social life in old age can protect against cognitive decline.

For many, the physical decline associated with old age is an expected side effect of a life well-lived. But the idea that our intellect will also degrade can be a much scarier reality. Fortunately, the existence of super-agers shows that at the very least, we don't have to accept cognitive decline without a fight.


Amazon pledges surprisingly bold climate change goals

The move comes one day before more than 1,500 Amazon employees are set to walk off the job as part of the global climate strikes.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced on Thursday plans to swiftly combat climate change.
  • Some parts of the plan include becoming carbon neutral by 2040, buying 100,000 electric delivery vans and reaching zero emissions by 2030.
  • Some Amazon employees say the pledge is good but doesn't go far enough.
Keep reading Show less