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PI: Gordon Stewart, Our Founder, Died This Week

PI: Gordon Stewart, Our Founder, Died This Week

Gordon Curran Stewart, the founder of Philipstown.info, The Paper, and The Next Deal, died early Wednesday morning, Nov. 26. He was 75 and had suffered from emphysema. He was a man whose life included various and enriching paths, interests and pursuits. Before he moved to Philipstown, Stewart’s career path took him on a long and winding road from his Chicago birthplace to, among other places, Vienna, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York City. Along the way he studied in graduate programs focusing on literature, history and music. At various times he was a theater and film director, a screenplay writer, a trained concert conductor, a mayoral aide, a presidential speechwriter, a stock exchange official, the CEO of a major insurance trade association and the chairman of a pension management firm. Whether the commonplace or the extraordinary, civic, political, cultural, social or personal, Stewart reveled in the details of life in his local community, the direction of the country and the fate of the world.

Digest: 25 November 2014

Digest: 25 November 2014

it is time we started to learn how to sustain rather than destroy the planet. — Walmart profits at the expense of working class consumers, its own employees, and US taxpayers, through the US tax and benefits systems. — While the common perception is that the US is on the wrong track, actually it is doing very well, relatively speaking. — A million veterans are uninsured because they do not qualify for Medicaid and are unable to afford private insurance, or because they are unaware that they are eligible. — Sau Paulo, a city of 20 million people responsible for a fifth of Brazil’s GDP, is running out of water. — Washington maintains an inclination to fantasize about the reality of not just Iraq, but the Middle East as a whole. — The resignation of Chuck Hagel in the context of US national security policy. — Kissinger discusses some of his ideas from his recent book “World Order”.

RE: Brazil’s Epic Water Crisis

RE: Brazil’s Epic Water Crisis

One of the world’s biggest cities is running out of water. Sao Paulo, a city of 20 million people, could run dry within weeks. The humanitarian and economic cost would be immense. The fiasco should be a global wake-up call for other metropolises. Hoping for rain isn’t a strategy. Chronic shortages would bring social unrest and undermine the city that is responsible for more than a fifth of the country’s GDP and is the capital of a region that accounts for 40 percent of Brazil’s industrial production.

TN: Wrong Assumptions About Middle East

TN: Wrong Assumptions About Middle East

The following claims have attained quasi-canonical status in Washington: The presence of US forces in the Islamic world contributes to regional stability and enhances US influence; the Persian Gulf constitutes a vital US national security interest; Egypt and Saudi Arabia are valued and valuable American allies; the interests of the United States and Israel align; and, terrorism poses an existential threat that the United States must defeat. Subjected to even casual scrutiny, none of the five will stand up.

TWP: Bacteria Evolved to Save the Planet. Can We?

TWP: Bacteria Evolved to Save the Planet. Can We?

After millions of years of gloriously successful life on Earth, a dangerous new organism arose and spread rapidly across the planet. Mankind? No. Two billion years ago the delinquent organisms were cyanobacteria, the first photosynthetic life forms to give off pure oxygen gas, a chemical deadly to all extant organisms. There may be surprising parallels between the, eventually positive, cyanobacteria impact 2 billion years ago and human impact today. Human beings too are a self-inflicted biosphere disaster in progress, but, in the extremely long-term, we could be just what the planet needs. We have much to learn before we become guardians rather than despoilers of Earth. If our destiny is to safeguard life’s future, it’s time our apprenticeship began.

TN: Walmart’s Billion $ Tax Avoidance

TN: Walmart’s Billion $ Tax Avoidance

Walmart avoids $1 billion a year in taxes through federal loopholes. The losers are the working-class consumers who think they’re getting a good deal by elbowing through the mob surrounding the Xbox floor display. An even more convenient source of “savings” for Walmart operates on the retail level, through the pockets of consumers and workers who rely on taxpayer-funded federal welfare programs.

WP: America’s Prospects Promising

WP: America’s Prospects Promising

Many believe that the American economy has some inherent advantages over its major competitors — a more flexible structure, stronger entrepreneurial traditions and a more demographically vibrant society. Along comes a fascinating new book that says you ain’t seen nothing yet. Peter Zeihan’s “The Accidental Superpower” begins with geography, pointing out that the United States is the world’s largest consumer market for a reason: its rivers.

MDC: Hagel Was To Cut Military

MDC: Hagel Was To Cut Military

As the Pentagon absorbed the shock of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s unexpected resignation Monday, another realization set in: Neither Hagel’s departure, just like those of his two predecessors, nor the arrival of his successor promises major changes in the administration’s approach to national security policy. The U.S. military still will be tasked with degrading and destroying the Islamic State with minimal involvement of ground troops.

AJA: 1.2m Veterans Lack Health Insurance

AJA: 1.2m Veterans Lack Health Insurance

A study published in The Lancet sheds light on a little-discussed issue affecting U.S. military veterans – a lack of health insurance coverage. Using numbers from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the authors determined that more than 1.2 million veterans lacked health insurance in 2012, in line with previous studies that came to similar conclusions.

DS: Interview with Kissinger

DS: Interview with Kissinger

Henry Kissinger is the most famous and most divisive secretary of state the US has ever had. In an interview, he discusses his new book exploring the crises of our time, from Syria to Ukraine, and the limits of American power. He says he acted in accordance with his convictions in Vietnam.

Digest: 19 November 2014

Digest: 19 November 2014

Recent remarks by Bill Clinton reinforce the sense that he fails to appreciate the reality of economic life for most Americans. — The major population challenge we face is found in two contrasting trends taking place in developed and developing countries. — The climate accord between the US and China is not that groundbreaking, but is an optimistic basis for negotiations of a new climate treaty in Paris next year. — The difficulty of setting fair emissions reduction goals for individual countries, and a method to overcome that difficulty. — Disconnect between actual efforts to regulate the use of drones and the specific nature of problem that must be regulated. — The problem with Obama’s immigration order is that it is impermanent and can easily be undone. — MIT Technology Review posits that it is difficult to know which authors to read and thinks an algorithm might help. — The massive growth of investment in arts museums and facilities at elite US universities.

FA: Executive Disorder

FA: Executive Disorder

Criticism of Obama’s forthcoming executive order has centered around the idea that Obama plans an unconstitutional power grab, but his action is within the bounds of the law because it focuses on changes to the administration’s enforcement priorities. That doesn’t mean that Obama’s executive order deserves no criticism – it will do nothing for the unaccompanied minors and families whose desperate flight to the United States last summer may have finally pushed the White House to act.

PS: The Population Challenge

PS: The Population Challenge

When people think of the world’s “population problem,” they often focus on rapid demographic growth in parts of the developing world. But, globally, the population-growth rate is actually falling, and population is expected to plateau later this century. Though we cannot afford to ignore the fact that, according to United Nations estimates, there will be 2.4 billion more mouths to feed worldwide by mid-century, another population problem also merits serious attention: large pockets of demographic decline.

MIT: Algorithm Ranks Notable Authors

MIT: Algorithm Ranks Notable Authors

While the works of thousands of authors enter the public domain each year, only a small percentage of these end up being widely available. So how to choose the ones to focus on? Today, Allen Riddell at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, says he has the answer. Riddell has developed an algorithm that automatically generates an independent ranking of notable authors for a given year. It is then a simple task to pick the works to focus on or to spot notable omissions from the past.

PS: Emissions Reduction Numbers

PS: Emissions Reduction Numbers

A loose system of individual commitments, in which each country unilaterally sets emissions targets, can help build trust and momentum for a more inclusive successor to the Kyoto Protocol. But if such a system is to work, general agreement would need to exist about what constitutes a fair target for each country. Fortunately, a study of the emissions targets to which countries have already agreed allows us to describe, and even quantify, what has historically been considered fair and reasonable.

NYT: Elite Campus Arts Race

NYT: Elite Campus Arts Race

Elite campuses across the country have emerged from the recession riding a multibillion-dollar wave of architecturally ambitious arts facilities, even as community arts programs struggle against public indifference. The current tide of building developed over years, as universities reassert the essential value of the arts to a well-rounded education, aided by deep-pocket alumni willing to underwrite elaborate new facilities.

BI: Drones and Aerial Surveillance

BI: Drones and Aerial Surveillance

The campaigns mounted by privacy advocates oftentimes make a compelling case about the threat of pervasive surveillance, but the legislation is rarely tailored in such a way to prevent the harm that advocates fear. In fact, the new laws are focused on the technology (drones) not the harm (pervasive surveillance) and have been aimed at restricting the government’s use of drone technology, while allowing the government to conduct identical surveillance when not using drone technology. This absurd anachronism is intentional.

HP: Clinton Economically Out Of Touch

HP: Clinton Economically Out Of Touch

Bill Clinton’s economic worldview spells trouble, both for a party that’s still reeling from defeat and for a nation where millions of people struggle just to make ends meet. Hillary Clinton, the heavily-favored contender for the Democratic nomination, has made Bill’s presidency and her role in it an essential part of her resume. But “Clintonism,” the Wall Street-friendly economic ideology of a bygone era, has passed its sell-by date. The former president’s latest remarks confirm that. If Hillary Clinton disagrees with the former president’s views, she hasn’t said so. When Bill Clinton speaks on economic issues, he reveals a deep wellspring of neoliberal belief and a profound detachment from the lived experience of most Americans. It’s true that, for the extremely wealthy, the “trend lines” are positive indeed. For the rest of the nation, not so much.

NYT: Climate Accord Not Groundbreaking

NYT: Climate Accord Not Groundbreaking

For all the pronouncements about the United States and China reaching a historic climate pact, the agreement they announced Wednesday does not signal a seismic shift in policies by either nation, experts said. The deal is important for what it shows the rest of the world, particularly other large carbon emitters like India and Russia, in advance of a meeting in Paris next year to negotiate a new climate treaty.

Digest: 11 November 2014

Digest: 11 November 2014

A cover-up surrounding the settlement between JPMorgan Chase and the Justice Department exposed. — Food goliath Unilever sues the San Francisco start-up behind vegan product Just Mayo arguing it is made without eggs and shouldn’t be allowed to be called mayo. — US Defense Department must build stronger relationships with commercial tech companies like Google. — Palestinian youth draw attention to what they call the “apartheid wall”. — The public has failed to question the US’s entrance into another war without end in the Middle East. — The military must develop enhanced psychological understanding if it is to successfully confront the challenges of modern warfare. — Watching films that provide an image of greater human capability than exists in reality causes us to overestimate our ability to be efficient. — Scientists have managed to control a person’s hand movement using a brain signal sent over the internet from someone else.

FA: Pentagon Adapting to Globalization

FA: Pentagon Adapting to Globalization

In late 2013, Google announced that it had acquired Boston Dynamics, an engineering and robotics company best known for creating BigDog, a four-legged robot that can accompany soldiers into rough terrain. Much of the resulting hype focused on the Internet giant and when it might start making various types of robots. What was good news for Google, however, represented a major loss for the U.S. Department of Defense.

WP: Weird War Over Mayonnaise

WP: Weird War Over Mayonnaise

A big-money war is brewing over the meaning of America’s best-selling condiment: mayonnaise. Food giant Unilever has sued the San Francisco start-up behind Just Mayo, an egg-less, mayonnaise-like sandwich spread. Brand disputes typically quibble over words, not the definition of the product itself. But the very modern legal battle will be fought on regulatory territory that is decades old. The FDA’s definition of mayo was set in 1957.

HP: Scientists Create Telepathy

HP: Scientists Create Telepathy

Telepathy is the stuff of science fiction. But what if the dystopian futurists were on to something? What if our brains could directly interact with each other, bypassing the need for language? The idea isn’t quite so far fetched, according to a recent University of Washington study in which researchers successfully replicated a direct brain-to-brain communication between two people.

AJ: Palestinians Remind World of Their Own Wall

AJ: Palestinians Remind World of Their Own Wall

Palestinian youth have dug a hole in Israel’s separation wall with the Palestinian territories, as a symbolic gesture to mark 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Palestinians refer to the current wall separating the West Bank from Israel as the “apartheid wall”. The International Committee of the Red Cross stated that the Israeli barrier “causes serious humanitarian and legal problems” and goes “far beyond what is permissible for an occupying power”.

TG: Obama’s Free Pass On ISIS War

TG: Obama’s Free Pass On ISIS War

We have entered the fourth official month of the latest war without end in the Middle East, and the Obama administration has suddenly doubled America’s troop presence in Iraq – yet there is no approved declaration of war in sight. The so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels receiving millions in weapons are now being defeated, and those same weapons are ending up in the hands of al-Qaida – yet there is no public sign of dialing back in the fight against the Islamic State.

RE: US Military Good But Not That Good

RE: US Military Good But Not That Good

We live within a myth of efficiency. That the world actually operates with a cool precision — the way it does in the movies. Seen through this prism, you could say that voter frustration is not so much the result of reputed Oval Office incompetence as of our having been spoiled by the movies and television. Americans cannot accept the fact that our abilities are seldom as good as movies make them out to be.

FA: Operation Sigmund Freud

FA: Operation Sigmund Freud

The cessation of major combat operations is often followed by a long period of asymmetric war, in which success can not be achieved through traditional combat. In this new phase of warfare, psychology’s core competencies of understanding individual and group behavior—of both the enemy and one’s own forces—then become the key to success.

RS: JP Morgan Chase’s Worst Nightmare

RS: JP Morgan Chase’s Worst Nightmare

Fleischmann is the central witness in one of the biggest cases of white-collar crime in American history, possessing secrets that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon late last year paid $9 billion (not $13 billion as regularly reported) to keep the public from hearing. Back in 2006, as a deal manager at the gigantic bank, Fleischmann first witnessed, then tried to stop, what she describes as “massive criminal securities fraud” in the bank’s mortgage operations. This past year she watched as Holder’s Justice Department struck a series of historic settlement deals with Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America. The root bargain in these deals was cash for secrecy. “I could be sued into bankruptcy,” she says. “I could lose my license to practice law. I could lose everything. But if we don’t start speaking up, then this really is all we’re going to get: the biggest financial cover-up in history.”

Digest: 4 November 2014

Digest: 4 November 2014

The discrepancy between the development of tax avoidance mechanisms and the legislation to govern those mechanisms. — Students with private loans often do not have the benefit of flexible payment plans, causing them to default on those loans. — Growing pressure on ECB President Draghi to engage in a large scale bond buying program to stimulate the European economy. — The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report describes the consequences of not reducing emissions. — The US political system continues to fail in long-term planning and execution. — Smaller county elections can be overlooked in the media, but some of these are important bell-weathers for state-wide results. — Judicial elections are starting to resemble congressional elections, increasingly reliant on campaign funding from donors. — To create a habitable, stable, free, and prosperous world it will be necessary to think more strategically.

PS: Years of Living Tactically

PS: Years of Living Tactically

We have been living in an illusion. For years, the world has believed that the transition from a unipolar to a multipolar order would be peaceful, orderly, and steady, with new players like China, Brazil, and Turkey adapting to the existing multilateral framework in a natural, harmonious way. How wrong we were. The reason for this failure is simple: the West has allowed short-term tactical concerns to impede the development of a long-term strategic vision.

TWP: Why Taxation Must Go Global

TWP: Why Taxation Must Go Global

We are witnessing profound changes in the way that the world economy works. As a result of the growing pace and intensity of globalization and digitization, more and more economic processes have an international dimension. As a consequence, an increasing number of businesses are adapting their structures to domestic and foreign legal systems and taxation laws. Tax legislation has not kept pace with these developments. The resulting tensions between national fiscal sovereignty and the borderless scope of today’s business activities can be resolved only through international dialogue and uniform global standards.

NYT: Driving Students Into Default

NYT: Driving Students Into Default

Federal regulators and members of Congress have been pressing private lenders to adopt flexible payment plans like those available through the federal loan system to no avail, according to an alarming report released last month by the student loan ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Congress may have to step in and require them to do so.

TD: Do Nothing, Repeat

TD: Do Nothing, Repeat

The crisis in our political system is less about party than about horizon. Somehow, we seem to have lost the capacity for long-range planning and execution—at a time when, arguably, foresight and patience are more essential than ever before. Iit is hard to imagine how our system can possibly implement policies that would be effective in the long run—or how, if we managed to take the right course, we could possibly stick to it.

DS: Monetary Fallacy?

DS: Monetary Fallacy?

To prevent dangerous deflation, the ECB is discussing a massive program to purchase government bonds. Monetary watchdogs are divided over the measure, with some alleging that central bankers are being held hostage by politicians. Is it important that the ECB adhere to tried-and-true principles in the crisis, as Weidmann argues? Or can it resort to unusual measures in an emergency situation, as Draghi is demanding?

BI: Watch Elections Like a Pro

BI: Watch Elections Like a Pro

Many races are called as soon as the polls close, but the ones that matter most—that spell the difference between majority and minority status for a political party—usually aren’t. Commentators typically focus on large, well-known counties, overlooking smaller counties that may be more reliable bell-weathers. To test conventional wisdom and to develop a guide for people who don’t analyze politics for a living, we looked at all the contested Senate races this year.

NYT: Starkest Warning Yet

NYT: Starkest Warning Yet

The gathering risks of climate change are so profound that they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger if greenhouse emissions continue at a runaway pace, according to a major new United Nations report. In the starkest language the IPCC has ever used, the expert panel made clear how far society remains from having any serious policy to limit global warming.

BBC: Judges For Sale?

BBC: Judges For Sale?

Citizen’s United is back in America’s courtrooms. But, this time, the famous US Supreme Court case isn’t facing scrutiny, it’s deciding who’s sitting on the bench in the first place. States pick their judges in a variety of ways. In states where elections are taking place, they are starting to remind voters more of congressional elections, with the same money and harsh rhetoric.

Digest: 28 October 2014

Digest: 28 October 2014

A series of essays on Brookings’ website that discuss issues surrounding character, particularly its relationship to opportunity. — Several problems and the risk of failure of industrial world economies. — President Obama should offer clemency to Edward Snowden. — We need to stop thinking dictatorships are the worst thing going, they aren’t, civil war and chaos are worse. — Twelve Nobel laureates write to Obama arguing that the US’s use of torture is particularly troubling for the precedent it sets and urge him to release the Senate’s CIA Torture Report. — Americans are disenchanted with government and public institutions. — While US airstrikes may have killed as many as 500 ISIL fighters, it is thought that as many as 6,000 new recruits joined ISIL in July alone. — Laura Poitras’ film “Citizenfour” is perhaps most remarkable for its presentation of the modern state as something of a terrifying abstraction.

BI: Essays on Character and Opportunity

BI: Essays on Character and Opportunity

Richard Reeves provides an introduction to the Center on Children and Families’ Essay Series on Character and Opportunity: I defy you to find a richer set of writings on the philosophical, empirical and practical issues raised by a focus on character, and in particular its relationship to questions of opportunity. There are enthusiasts for the public endeavor of character cultivation as well as thoughtful skeptics. There are calls, from differing political perspectives, to give at least equal weight to the moral dimensions of character, as well as strong demands to honor individual free will and individual development. Two scholars draw attention to the gendered nature of character formation; others stress the importance of culture, social norms, and the impact of chronic stress in the early years. Construction of a policy agenda for the cultivation of character poses a stark challenge to the partisan culture of contemporary politics, but may also alleviate it, by reinvigorating community life.

WP: Justice for Snowden

WP: Justice for Snowden

It is time for President Obama to offer clemency to Edward Snowden, the courageous U.S. citizen who revealed the Orwellian reach of the National Security Agency’s sweeping surveillance of Americans. His actions may have broken the law, but his act, as the New York Times editorialized, did the nation “a great service.”

DS: Freedom vs Stability

DS: Freedom vs Stability

There are many reasons to be gratified by the end of a dictatorship. It means that a criminal is no longer in a position of power, and there’s the prospect that democracy could take root in its stead. Some people also believe that anything is better than despotism. But the last decade has shown that there is something worse than dictatorship, worse than the absence of freedom, worse than oppression: civil war and chaos.

NYT: Defying An All-Seeing Eye

NYT: Defying An All-Seeing Eye

“Citizenfour” stands alone in evoking the modern state as an unseen, ubiquitous presence, an abstraction with enormous coercive resources at its disposal. It is everywhere and nowhere, the leviathan whose belly is our native atmosphere. What do we know about what is known about us? Who knows it? Can we trust them? These questions are terrifying, and so is “Citizenfour.”

HP: Obama Urged to Release Torture Report

HP: Obama Urged to Release Torture Report

Twelve Nobel Peace Prize winners penned an open letter to President Barack Obama urging his administration to release a U.S. Senate report on the CIA’s use of torture. The laureates spoke out sharply against any use of torture, but said that the U.S.’ tactics were particularly troubling. Advocates have been urging the White House for months to no avail to make the report public.

AJA: ISIL’s New Recruits

AJA: ISIL’s New Recruits

United States-led airstrikes in Syria have killed nearly 500 ISIL fighters since attacks were launched last month. While coalition forces continue to shell ISIL targets, it appears that the armed group is quickly replenishing its ranks. In August – during the lead-up to U.S.-led strikes – the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 6,000 new recruits had joined ISIL in July alone.

DS: The Zombie System

DS: The Zombie System

Six years after the Lehman disaster, the industrialized world is suffering from Japan Syndrome. Growth is minimal, another crash may be brewing and the gulf between rich and poor continues to widen. Can the global economy reinvent itself?

NYT: Nation’s Confidence Ebbs

NYT: Nation’s Confidence Ebbs

In taking office during two overseas wars and the Great Recession, President Obama set out to restore society’s frayed faith in its public institutions, saying that the question was not whether government was too big or small, “but whether it works.” Six years later, Americans seem more dubious than ever that it really does.

Digest: 21 October 2014

Digest: 21 October 2014

Fiduciaries should divest from fossil fuels to counter the rising costs of climate change. — Chinese President Xi Jinping’s efforts to establish land and maritime trade routes in the mould of the old Silk Road. — Privacy protections are needed to protect people from data miners, brokers and resellers. — Flexibility in the debtor/creditor relationship is needed to prevent conflict. — The pesticides that have been killing off bees and harming other creatures don’t make a blind bit of difference to crop yields. — Elizabeth Warren may be what will be needed to get Democrats out in sufficient numbers for the midterm elections. — Unchecked corporate power undermines democracy and what can be done about it. — Liberal ideas that evil is something that can be eradicated may be misguided and damaging.

WP: Warren’s Powerful Case

WP: Warren’s Powerful Case

Elizabeth Warren is not running for president apparently because everyone assumes the nomination is Clinton’s. But everyone was making that same assumption eight years ago, and we know what happened. If the choice is between inspiration and inevitability, Warren may be forced to change her plans.

PS: China’s Silk Road Revival

PS: China’s Silk Road Revival

The phrase “Silk Road” evokes a romantic image – half history, half myth – of tented camel caravans winding their way across the trackless deserts and mountains of Central Asia. But the Silk Road is not just part of a fabled past; it is an important feature of China’s current foreign policy.

MJ: Bee-Killing Pesticides Useless

MJ: Bee-Killing Pesticides Useless

So, there’s this widely used class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids that have emerged as a prime suspect in honeybee collapse, and may also be harming birds and water-borne critters. But at least they provide benefits to farmers, right? Well, not soybean farmers, according to a blunt economic assessment released Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency.

NYT: Dark Market for Personal Data

NYT: Dark Market for Personal Data

It’s unrealistic to expect individuals to inquire, broker by broker, about their files. Instead, we need to require brokers to make targeted disclosures to consumers. Uncovering problems in Big Data (or decision models based on that data) should not be a burden we expect individuals to solve on their own.

PS: Moral Economy of Debt

PS: Moral Economy of Debt

The creditor-debtor relationship embodies no iron law of morality; rather, it is a social relationship that always must be negotiated. When quantitative precision and an unyielding approach to debt obligations are the rule, conflict and penury soon follow. We need to limit the supply of and demand for credit to what the economy is capable of producing.

TD: The Imperative of Revolt

TD: The Imperative of Revolt

Wolin, who wrote the books “Politics and Vision” and “Democracy Incorporated,” and Saul, who wrote “Voltaire’s Bastards” and “The Unconscious Civilization,” see democratic rituals and institutions, especially in the United States, as largely a facade for unchecked global corporate power.

TG: The Truth About Evil

TG: The Truth About Evil

Liberal meliorists like to think that human life contains many things that are bad, some of which may never be entirely eliminated; but there is nothing that is intrinsically destructive or malevolent in human beings themselves – nothing, in other words, that corresponds to a traditional idea of evil. But another view is possible, and one that need make no call on theology. What has been described as evil in the past can be understood as a natural tendency to animosity and destruction, co-existing in human beings alongside tendencies to sympathy and cooperation.

HP: Homer Describing Big Oil

HP: Homer Describing Big Oil

The dangers of climate change have grown and become palpable in myriad ways but nations have made little progress. In fact, having put the car in reverse, they are accelerating in the wrong direction. The planet has a big problem. I’m here to argue that divestment from fossil fuel companies is an important strategy for fiduciaries of all types to pursue. Divestment by any group, but particularly by thought leaders such as those responsible for public pension funds, helps to stigmatize the oil, gas and coal giants as repugnant social pariahs and rogue political forces bent on profit at whatever cost to the planet and its people.

Digest: 14 October 2014

Digest: 14 October 2014

Voting is commonly held to undergird the functioning of a democracy, but in practice is all something of a sham. — The Ebola virus may mutate in time to become airborne but has not yet been seen to have done so. — Southern California Edison has amassed 600,000 lithium-ion battery cells to store power generated from wind turbines. — The problems dominating current headlines are relatively limited in their scope, unless we screw them up. — Things started going downhill for Europeans when Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. — Germany must counter the danger posed by its citizens becoming radicalized without itself becoming extremist. — A new study shows the major determinant of conflict-free stability since 1950 is increased trade. — The University of London is undermining the financial viability of the Warburg Institute’s world-renowned library.

TG: Why I Won’t Vote This Year – Or Any Year

TG: Why I Won’t Vote This Year – Or Any Year

Participation in the body politic is widely considered to be both a privilege and an imperative to the enlightened urban citizen. To choose otherwise is quite literally heresy – and heretics by and large have a difficult time of it in society. The platitudes I face as a non-voter are known to everyone, precisely because they are platitudes – People have marched for miles! or Immigrants crossed oceans! Understanding the Soviet Union and North Korea gives a bit of insight into human social psychology. No matter how absurd the state line, a huge majority of the populace can be found to promulgate it. Frankly I am baffled that those of us who were nerds in high school now defer to the winners of popularity contests.

RE: How Ebola Spreads

RE: How Ebola Spreads

For Ebola Zaire to become airborne in humans, it would need to cause lung disease significant enough to release lots of virus into respiratory secretions. The virus would then need to survive outside the body, dried and in sunlight for a prolonged time. And it would need to be able to infect another person more than a couple feet away. There’s no evidence from previous epidemics or laboratory experiments that Ebola Zaire behaves in this way.

FP: Much Ado About the Islamic State

FP: Much Ado About the Islamic State

Let’s take a step back from today’s lurid headlines and try to see the bigger picture. There’s a lot of nasty and vivid trouble out there in the world today, but not all of it is likely to matter very much beyond the immediate confines of the troubled region itself. Now, as always, the real challenge is figuring out which of today’s headlines really matter, which can be left to others, and which can be mostly ignored.

BL: Wind Storage Holy Grail

BL: Wind Storage Holy Grail

At a windy mountain pass on the edge of the Mojave Desert, North America’s most potent collection of batteries used for storing unused power is humming its way toward an electricity revolution. Southern California Edison, a utility that serves about 14 million people, has amassed more than 600,000 lithium-ion battery cells at a substation in Tehachapi, California. The $54 million, two-year test project aims to collect power generated from the area’s 5,000 wind turbines and store it for future use.

MIT: Conflict Free Stability Possible?

MIT: Conflict Free Stability Possible?

The study of modern history is currently undergoing a revolution. There was a time when historians focused largely on events as the be all and end all of history. But in recent years, there has been a growing understanding that a complex network of links, alliances, trade agreements and so on play a hugely important role in creating an environment in which conflict (or peace) can spread. An interesting open question is whether certain kinds of networks exist that are stable against the outbreak of war.

NYT: Loss of Eden in London?

NYT: Loss of Eden in London?

The Warburg Institute here has trained generations of scholars, who liken its world-renowned library of Renaissance and post-Classical material to an intellectual paradise. Now many scholars fear for the Warburg’s future over a funding dispute with the University of London. In recent years the Warburg has had to pay the university, which is state-run, an increasingly large percentage of its annual budget to maintain the Bloomsbury mansion that it calls home. Warburg defenders fear this will push the institute into financial ruin.

AJA: Europe’s Biggest Disappointment

AJA: Europe’s Biggest Disappointment

It is worth considering how the once giddy European love affair with Obama will come to a close. It might not be in an acrimonious George W. Bush–style divorce, but it is likely to end in disappointment and regret. Poll numbers indicate a status quo Obama presidency. But that is not what Europe expected and not, for that matter, what Obama promised. President Obama may have smoothed US politics’ tone and rhetoric, but, in the end, he played the same game.

DS: The Extremist Trap

DS: The Extremist Trap

Among terrorists’ strategic goals is the unmasking of a state’s alleged evil side, which they purport to be fighting. This is the exactly the trap into which US President George W. Bush and his government stumbled. The US of today is not safer as a result — it is poorer. Liberal America, which was long a beacon for democracies around the world, including Germany’s, no longer exists. It is not a path we should follow.

Digest: 7 October 2014

Digest: 7 October 2014

Analysis of ammunition captured from ISIS shows that almost a fifth of it was manufactured by two US companies. — Five points from the IMF’s downgraded forecast for global growth. — As a complex branched molecule, iso-propyl cyanide is the closest we’ve come to seeing molecules of the type necessary to support life elsewhere in the galaxy. — It is probable that human emissions of greenhouse gases have contributed to if not caused the California drought. — Action on climate change is a huge opportunity for growth in the short and long terms. — The implications of the Republicans taking a majority in the Senate in the upcoming midterm elections. — Industry trade groups are suing to have Seattle’s minimum wage increase found to be in violation of the 14th Amendment. — Current efforts to undermine civil society in favor of a more authoritarian model.

RE: Unconstitutional Living Wage Law?

RE: Unconstitutional Living Wage Law?

Industry trade groups are now challenging Seattle’s new minimum wage law as unconstitutional. They claim the city’s $15 an hour rate violates the 14th Amendment. Passed just after the Civil War to ensure equal rights for the newly freed slaves, that amendment says no state may “deny to any person . . . the equal protection of the laws.” According to the industry lawsuit, the minimum wage law violates this Equal Protection Clause because it phases in the higher wage at a different schedule for franchised companies than for small local businesses.

BBC: Complex Organic Molecule In Space

BBC: Complex Organic Molecule In Space

Iso-propyl cyanide has been detected in a star-forming cloud 27,000 light-years from Earth. Various organic molecules have previously been discovered in interstellar space, but i-propyl cyanide is the first with a branched carbon backbone. The branched structure is important as it shows that interstellar space could be the origin of more complex branched molecules, such as amino acids, that are necessary for life on Earth.

BI: Climate Change and CA Drought

BI: Climate Change and CA Drought

It is clear that the current drought event in California is an extreme event, and that it is resulting from a complex confluence of interacting climatic conditions. And it is also clear, given the dramatic and far-reaching impacts, that effective management of climate-related risks requires rigorous, objective assessment of the probability of this kind of extreme event in the current climate.

RE: Is Civil Society Imperialistic?

RE: Is Civil Society Imperialistic?

The word “imperialism” is still bandied about a good deal. Sometimes its meaning is traditional, Sometimes the meaning is flakier. There’s an entrant in the imperialism lexicon that has picked up a lot of resonance in the past decade and is even becoming a staple in foreign policy discussions. Call it “civil society imperialism.” And the idea behind the term’s rising popularity has spawned lots of big enemies.

WP: Disappointing Global Recovery

WP: Disappointing Global Recovery

The International Monetary Fund has once again downgraded its assessment of the world economy through 2015. This year, the IMF expects global growth to clock in at 3.3 percent — 0.4 percentage points lower than the organization predicted just six months ago. It’s been six years since the darkest days of the global financial crisis, but economies across the world have yet to escape its shadow. Here are five of the most important charts in the IMF’s forecast that help explain why this recovery continues to disappoint.

BBC: A Republican Senate?

BBC: A Republican Senate?

It’s simple electoral maths that the Republican Party has a good chance to control a majority in the US Senate after November’s mid-term elections. As most experts predict conservatives will easily maintain their edge in the House of Representatives, the “battle for the Senate” has dominated discussion. As election day draws near, however, a quiet debate is simmering over what Republican control of Congress actually would mean.

NYT: ISIS Ammunition from US and China

NYT: ISIS Ammunition from US and China

In its campaign across northern Syria and Iraq, the jihadist group Islamic State has been using ammunition from the United States and other countries that have been supporting the regional security forces fighting the group, according to new field data gathered by a private arms-tracking organization. The data suggest that ammunition transferred into Syria and Iraq to help stabilize governments has instead passed from the governments to the jihadists, helping to fuel the Islamic State’s rise and persistent combat power.

PS: Selfishness for All?

PS: Selfishness for All?

Ban’s message was simple: Beyond the long-term shared benefits of such action, countries and businesses would benefit in the short term. There are no losers in the fight to mitigate climate change and its consequences and for some the “win-win” character of climate action seems finally to be sinking in. Today’s carbon-intensive businesses may see far more risk than opportunity in climate action. But this view is shortsighted from a financial point of view and neglects the impact of public opinion.

Digest: 30 September 2014

Digest: 30 September 2014

John Oliver questions whether we need to rethink a policy that causes children to fear a blue sky. — The imbalance of interests taking part in negotiations of the largest two trade agreements ever. — Recent G-20 efforts to get multinational corporations to pay more taxes. — The World Wildlife Fund presents its findings regarding major wildlife population losses over the last 40 years. — US military involvement in Syria can be expected to last potentially for decades. — White House to require federal agencies to provide details about drones. — Eric Holder would do John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales proud. — The government, like the corporations it inadequately regulates, is treating education as a profit center.

WWF: Half of Global Wildlife Lost

WWF: Half of Global Wildlife Lost

Between 1970 and 2010 populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish around the globe dropped 52 percent, says the 2014 Living Planet Report released today by World Wildlife Fund. This biodiversity loss occurs disproportionately in low-income countries—and correlates with the increasing resource use of high-income countries. The report’s data also point to other warning signs about the overall health of the planet.

HP: John Oliver On Drone Strikes

HP: John Oliver On Drone Strikes

If Barack Obama is concerned about the legacy of his presidency, he might want to take a look at Sunday’s episode of “Last Week Tonight.” Not thinking about drones is a luxury many people don’t have, a point made overwhelmingly clear by a clip of a 13-year-old Pakistani boy whose grandmother had been killed by a drone strike. In the clip, Zubair Rehman testifies that he no longer loves blue skies, he prefers grey skies. “The drones do not fly when the skies are grey.” That was enough for John Oliver. “When children from other countries are telling us that we’ve made them fear the sky,” he insisted, “it might be time to ask some hard questions.”

RE: War Without End

RE: War Without End

The usual markers of military victory don’t apply to the Syria war. The borders, combatants, allegiances, and military objectives in the Syrian war are too fluid to conform to our usual expectations. In bombing Syria, President Obama, who inherited this war, has made this war his war, the next president’s war, and our war. Today, tomorrow, and for as far as the eye can see. Perpetual war for perpetual peace.

AJ: Trade Agreements Kept Secret

AJ: Trade Agreements Kept Secret

In August 2007, then–presidential candidate Barack Obama vowed that, if elected, he would “immediately” amend NAFTA. Six years later, with NAFTA still untouched, Obama faced the decision to appoint the chief U.S. negotiators for the two largest trade agreements in history. And he picked Wall Street bankers for the job. While labor organizations worry about losing leverage, the financial industry seems poised to entrench its influence.

WP: Details About Drones

WP: Details About Drones

The White House is preparing a directive that would require federal agencies to publicly disclose for the first time where they fly drones in the United States and what they do with the torrents of data collected from aerial surveillance. Until now, the armed forces and federal law enforcement agencies have been reflexively secretive about drone flights and even less forthcoming about how often they use the aircraft to conduct domestic surveillance.

RE: Holder Another Brick in the Wall

RE: Holder Another Brick in the Wall

Considered in its totality, Holder’s time as attorney general maintained the Bush administration’s legal philosophy on the largest issues, and in a style that Bush’s attorneys general must have admired. Trained to detect and amplify Washington’s marginal political differences, the press sometimes overlooks the obvious continuity of the permanent government.

FA: Truth About Taxes

FA: Truth About Taxes

Governments worldwide increasingly share the sentiment: perhaps, like the pinched middle classes, they feel that corporations are taking too much of the profits for themselves. And so, at a June 2012 summit, G-20 leaders resolved to get multinational corporations to pay more taxes. They asked another international organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, to investigate and suggest what might be done.

TN: Student Debt Sentence

TN: Student Debt Sentence

Public funds in the form of federal student loans has been called the “lifeblood” of the for-profit system, providing on average 86 percent of revenues. Such schools now enroll around 10 percent of America’s college students, but take in more than a quarter of all federal financial aid—as much as $33 billion in a single year. By some estimates it would cost less than half that amount to directly fund free higher education at all currently existing two- and four-year public colleges.

Digest: 23 September 2014

Digest: 23 September 2014

The US political system has been subsumed by corporate totalitarianism and citizens’ only recourse is widespread civil disobedience. — Fighting global warming may be cheaper than many had thought. — The mixed but ultimately successful track record of Germany’s energy sector shift towards renewable energy. — The US’s war on terror continues to create the very conflicts it purports to attempt to stop. — Apparently, over the past 37 years Congress has been taking three day weekends 85% of the time. — One in four Americans want their state to secede from the US. — The incompetence employed in US executions is increasingly considered inexcusable and barbaric. — Google is working to control the monetization of every aspect of human interface and interaction.

PS: America’s Never-Ending War

PS: America’s Never-Ending War

It is official: US President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Barack Obama is at war again. Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq was so controversial that it fractured the global consensus to fight terror. After Obama took office, he sought to introduce a gentler, subtler tone. But the rhetorical shift did not translate into a change in strategy. America’s war on terror now risks becoming a permanent war against an expanding list of enemies – often inadvertently created by its own policies. It is time for the US to recognize that since it launched its war on terror, the scourge has only spread.

DS: Botched Execution

DS: Botched Execution

The horrific execution of Clayton Lockett by lethal injection this spring in Oklahoma took an astonishing 43 minutes to complete. Together with other botched killings, the incident has focused attention on the inexperience and incompetence that now accompanies many executions in America.

WP: Congress Rarely Works Full Week

WP: Congress Rarely Works Full Week

Of the 13,000-plus days since Jan. 1, 1978, both chambers of Congress have been in session at the same time for about 4,700 of them — about a third of the total time and a little fewer than half of all weekdays. The Senate has worked more than the House, having been in session about 42 percent of the time to the House’s 39 percent. A look at the the past 37 years of Congressional activity reveals that your likely stereotypes about the amount of time Congress spends doing the people’s work is probably about right.

BL: Germany’s Expensive Success

BL: Germany’s Expensive Success

The Energiewende will go on despite its obvious setbacks. There are countries in Europe that already generate more than half of their electricity from renewable sources, such as Sweden, and others that are getting there, such as Austria, and the continent’s biggest economy is trying hard to catch up. The German government’s determination to experiment, and citizens’ continued willingness to pay for these experiments if they lead to a cleaner future, carry important lessons for the U.S. and other countries where politicians are afraid of the kind of upheavals that Germany has faced.

RE: 25% of Americans Wish To Secede

RE: 25% of Americans Wish To Secede

For the past few weeks, as Scotland debated the wisdom of independence, Reuters has been asking Americans how they would feel about declaring independence today, not from the United Kingdom, but from the mother country they left England to create. Almost a quarter of those surveyed said they were strongly or provisionally inclined to leave the United States, and take their states with them. The sense of aggrievement is comprehensive, bipartisan, somewhat incoherent, but deeply felt. This should be more than disconcerting; it’s a situation that could get dangerous.

TG: Google Wants To Control Our Lives

TG: Google Wants To Control Our Lives

Page and Brin were clear from the outset: their mission was “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. The crucial thing about that sentence is that there’s no reference to the internet. In some sense, every person, every object, every thought in every brain, everything anyone ever does, is information. Page and Brin told us what Google was up to. We just didn’t take them literally enough.

NYT: Errors and Emissions

NYT: Errors and Emissions

Saving the planet would be cheap; it might even be free. But will anyone believe the good news? Where is the new optimism about climate change and growth coming from? It has long been clear that a well-thought-out strategy of emissions control, in particular one that puts a price on carbon via either an emissions tax or a cap-and-trade scheme, would cost much less than the usual suspects want you to think. But the economics of climate protection look even better now than they did a few years ago.

TD: The Coming Climate Revolt

TD: The Coming Climate Revolt

We have undergone a transformation during the last few decades—what John Ralston Saul calls a corporate coup d’état in slow motion. We are no longer a capitalist democracy endowed with a functioning liberal class that once made piecemeal and incremental reform possible. We are governed, rather, by a species of corporate totalitarianism, or what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin describes as “inverted totalitarianism.” By this Wolin means a system where corporate power, while it purports to pay fealty to electoral politics, the Constitution, the three branches of government and a free press, along with the iconography and language of American patriotism, has in fact seized all the important levers of power to render the citizen impotent.

Digest: 15 September 2014

Digest: 15 September 2014

The discrepancy between the evidence showing ISIS to be a threat to the US, and the level of fear-mongering taking place in US politics and press. — The repercussions of large-scale US surveillance on the foundations of its democracy. — President Obama retains preference for careful deliberation despite the pressure of the rush to war again developing in Washington. — The history of intervention by the US and other foreign powers in the Middle East strongly suggests that the Middle East should be allowed to govern itself. — Apple is looking to become a leading repository of medical information on individuals. — Republicans and Democratics differ not only on how they feel about specific issues, but also on which issues are most important.

WP: China’s Creeping Invasion

WP: China’s Creeping Invasion

It looked like East Asia might be the place where the crumbling global order of the past quarter-century, centered on U.S. power and values, would face a decisive crisis. Instead, it was Vladimir Putin who launched a frontal military assault to stop the spread of Western influence and institutions to Ukraine, and the Islamic State that forced the U.S. retreat from foreign military commitments.

Pew: Wide Differences Over Issues That Matter

Pew: Wide Differences Over Issues That Matter

Republican and Democratic voters are split not only over their candidate preferences, but also about the importance of key issues in the election. The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center finds that terrorism and the economy are top issues for both Republican and Democratic voters, though in both cases they rate as more important for Republicans than Democrats.

HRW: Liberty to Monitor All

HRW: Liberty to Monitor All

How large-scale US surveillance is harming journalism, law, and American democracy. The 120-page report documents how national security journalists and lawyers are adopting elaborate steps or otherwise modifying their practices to keep communications, sources, and other confidential information secure in light of revelations of unprecedented US government surveillance of electronic communications and transactions.

TG: American Fear Mongering Machine

TG: American Fear Mongering Machine

Did you know that the US government’s counterterrorism chief Matthew Olson said that “there’s no credible information” that ISIS is planning an attack on America and that there’s “no indication at this point of a cell of foreign fighters operating in the United States”? Probably not, because as the nation barrels towards yet another war in the Middle East and President Obama addresses the nation on the “offensive phase” of his military plan, mainstream media pundits and the usual uber-hawk politicians are busy trying to out-hyperbole each other over the threat ISIS poses to Americans. Thanks to this wall-to-wall fear mongering, a once war-weary public is now terrified. The administration openly admits it has no idea how long it will take, only that it won’t be quick. “It may take a year, it may take two years, it may take three years,” John Kerry said. He didn’t add, “it might take another 13”, but he might as well have.

RE: US Minimum Wage Hike?

RE: US Minimum Wage Hike?

President Barack Obama’s push to raise the minimum wage, which has largely found success in liberal-leaning coastal states to date, could make headway in the conservative heartland in the November elections. Voters in several Republican-controlled states will consider ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage above the national rate of $7.25 per hour.

MIT: Tech Fix For Medicine?

MIT: Tech Fix For Medicine?

After decades as a technological laggard, medicine has entered its data age. Mobile technologies, sensors, genome sequencing, and advances in analytic software now make it possible to capture vast amounts of information about our individual makeup and the environment around us. The sum of this information could transform medicine.

NYT: Paths to War Haunt Obama

NYT: Paths to War Haunt Obama

Just hours before announcing an escalated campaign against Islamic extremists last week, the president invited a group of foreign policy experts and former government officials to dinner on Monday, and a separate group of columnists and magazine writers for a discussion on Wednesday afternoon. He reflected on the frenzied weeks leading up to the American invasion of Iraq a decade ago.

PS: Let Mid-East Govern Itself

PS: Let Mid-East Govern Itself

After decades of cynical and often secret interventions by the US, Britain, France, Russia, and other outside powers, the Middle East’s political institutions are based largely on corruption, sectarian politics, and brute force. The damage in Libya, Gaza, Syria, and Iraq demands that a political solution be found within the region, not imposed from the outside.

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