Digest: 10 June 2014




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In Participatory Totalitarianism, John Feffer (for Foreign Policy in Focus) discusses the role we all play in allowing Big Corporations and Big Politics into the privacy of our lives. Feffer considers modern surveillance in the context of several socio-political upheavals that seem to correlate with the Chinese Year of the Snake, the year the snake sheds its skin to emerge anew. The realization of the extent of corporate and government surveillance was the most recent major transformative event. Feffer describes the extent of modern surveillance to surround sound on a stereo – we have allowed it to be woven into the fabric of our lives – but it needn’t be inevitable, some states, organisations, and individuals are pushing back.


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In Noncompete Clauses Increasingly Pop Up in Array of Jobs, Steven Greenhouse (for The New York Times) discusses the differing views on the value of such clauses and the battle between two powerful interest groups – venture capitalists and manufacturers – over whether they should be allowed. Traditionally such clauses were common only in sectors with tightly held secrets, nowadays a much wider band of companies are inserting them into their contracts. Companies see the clauses as valuable protection of their investment in intellectual property and training, but others see them as detrimental to innovation and competition. California doesn’t allow them except in limited circumstances, but Massachusetts does and some policymakers there are concerned that they are failing to effectively compete with Silicon Valley as a result.

In Obama Woos Student Borrowers with Executive Order on Loan Repayments, Heidi Moore (for The Guardian) discusses Obama’s extension of the Pay as You Earn initiative and the extension of it to anyone with a federal loan. The initiative allows students to lock their interest rate to a percentage of their income, and provides loan forgiveness in certain circumstances. The program will not come into effect until late 2015 and does not address skyrocketing tuition fees, but hopefully will slow the looming student-loan debt crisis. The amount of debt held by students and the high risk of their default is enough to threaten the overall economy.

In High Stakes as the Senate Turns to the Student Debt Crisis, Derek Pugh (via Nation of Change) discusses Senator Warren’s efforts to get a bill passed in the Senate to allow refinancing of student loan rates. The bill is part of the Democrats overall Fair Shot agenda, but is likely to be watered down in the face of objections from wealthy donors and then cut in the face of Republican filibuster. The goals of the bill are shared by majorities of the public according to polls, but banks and the federal government expect to pull in $127 million over the next ten years from this debt. Warren believes the economy would be better if people could instead use the money they are currently required to pay in interest.


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In Carbon Majors and Climate Justice,  Naderev (Yeb) Saño and Julie-Anne Richards (for Project Syndicate) discuss arguments to hold carbon majors accountable for the externalized costs of their business past and present. The revenue gained from levies on each ton of fuel produced could be paid into an International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, which can distribute it to help highly-vulnerable communities respond to climate change. The authors argue that even a small levy such as $2 per ton could raise as much as $50 billion annually.

In Obama’s Green Gamble, The Economist discusses a new rule from the US Environmental Protection Agency that proposes to cut emissions of carbon dioxide from power plants by 30% from their 2005 levels by 2030. In the absence of action from Congress, the rule will affect coal plants the most and this is already provoking negative response from politicians of both parties in coal states.


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In Secret Terror Trial is Threat to Open Justice, Human Rights Campaigners Warn, Sandra Laville (for The Guardian) discusses the first trial in modern British legal history to take place in total secrecy. Two terror suspects are being tried in the UK criminal justice system, but their identities are unknown, and there will be no public access to the proceedings. The Guardian and several other media organisations have challenged the secrecy surrounding the case at the court of appeal. The Crown prosecution argues that if the trial can not take place in secret then the prosecution will probably not proceed with the case. Human rights campaigners by contrast see secret criminal trials as a very dangerous precedent to be setting, one that is inconsistent with the rule of law and democratic accountability.


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In War Gear Flows to Police Departments, Matt Apuzzo (for The New York Times) discusses how during the Obama administration very large quantities of military equipment including tens of thousands of machine guns have been sold to police departments. Apuzzo describes the militarization of police forces over recent years through cheap military surplus purchases. In many cases the surplus would be destroyed if not taken on by police departments, who are often happy to provide extra protection for their officers. But it is not necessarily as benign as that – police recruitment videos increasingly depict paramilitary action as a means of attracting candidates – militarization changes the relationship between  police and populace.