Digest: 1 July 2014

 

 

Highlight

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In The Alien Brains Living on Earth, Jason G. Goldman (for BBC) discusses octopus brains. Octopi have developed very different brain structures to humans since branching from our common ancestor around 800 million years ago. Octopus arms, for example, operate individually, as if each has a mind of its own guided by a skin that can mimic its surroundings and suckers that are individually able to tell the difference between another’s tentacles and the octopus’s own.  But octopi also have both short and long term memory, the ability to use tools, and discernible individual personality traits. One researcher in Scotland has posited that octopi developed vertebrate-like intelligence so as to compete with the vertebrates that shared the octopi’s migration patterns.

Economic

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In The Myth of America’s Golden Age, Joseph E. Stiglitz (for Politico Magazine) discusses the rise of inequality, its effects, and the failure of the government to address the core issues. He argues that inequality has reached crisis proportions. The government continues to employ trickle-down policies, but these won’t work. Growth and stability will come about when both economic and political inequality have diminished. The government continues to fail to understand why large segments of the population remain dissatisfied with its failure to hold to account those responsible for the financial crisis.

In Harnessing Innovation and Cooperation to Create Good Jobs and Growth, Bill Clinton (for The Huffington Post) discusses some examples of positive change taking place as a result of the New Markets Credit and the Clinton Global Initiative in various cities in the US. The New Markets Credit provides a tax credit to private investors who fund projects in underserved communities. Clinton discusses projects including a heath center for the homeless in Denver, and the development of green spaces and affordable housing in Birmingham Alabama.

In Post-Crash Economics, Robert Skidelsky (for Project Syndicate) discusses the disconnect between the neoclassical economic theory taught at universities and the realities of life. The single-minded focus on free-market based theory long prevalent in economics departments results in perceptual blind-spots. In the absence of alternative views, mainstream economics rewards orthodoxy while penalizing heresy, but this means it never questions its own assumptions.

Environmental 

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In NASA Launching Satellite to Track Carbon, Kenneth Chang (for The New York Times) discusses the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, a satellite that will help scientists understand how much carbon can be expected to be absorbed by oceans and land plants. Scientists do not fully understand what happens to the carbon that returns to earth from the atmosphere. While carbon emissions have skyrocketed since the industrial revolution, no new rain forests have appeared. Rain forests act as carbon sinks – it is hoped that data from the satellite will help to determine whether they are about to overflow.

Political

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In The Clintons’ Web of Wealth, Zaid Jilani (for Al Jazeera America) discusses where Bill and Hilary Clinton got their $100 million. Jilani argues that for all the fuss over whether or not Hilary Clinton is in touch with ordinary people, the real question is where her money came from. Tracking the Clintons’ income through Office of Government Ethics disclosures, Jilani describes a correlation between public actions on behalf of certain interest groups and the Clintons’ income.  Citigroup and Goldman Sachs stand out as regular speech venues for the Clintons.  Both of those banks were major beneficiaries of the financial deregulation that President Clinton supported when president. Hilary Clinton, more recently, has given several speeches for $200,ooo each at Goldman Sachs – reports suggest they found what she had to say “reassuring”.

In Use of Drones for Killings Risks a War Without End, Panel Concludes in Report, Mark Mazzetti (for The New York Times) discusses the report’s finding that drone warfare may be a slippery slope into perpetual war and sets a dangerous precedent for other nations to follow.  The report is by no means anti-drone, finding for example that the collateral damage from drones is less than with conventional aircraft; but it is skeptical of the secrecy surrounding the drone program and the lack of consideration of the potentially serious consequences of this new type of warfare.

Social

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In The Pitchforks Coming… For Us Plutocrats, Nick Hanauer (for Politico Magazine) discusses his view that he and his fellow billionaires should be concerned for their own safety and economic well-being if inequality continues to grow. No nation has ever maintained such inequality without repercussions – they always end up as police states or with revolutions. He urges the adoption of a $15 minimum wage to counter the possibility of either. Hanauer supports what he calls middle-out economics – he believes that it is in the interests of employers to increase their customer base by economically empowering their workers.