Digest: 12 August 2014




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In A New Life for Refugees, and the City They Adopted, Susan Hartman (for The New York Times) discusses how Utica NY has become a haven for refugees. Starting mostly by accident in the 1970s, refugees from Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, Russia and Africa have revitalized the city. While many groups of immigrants, such as Bosnians, Russians, and Vietnamese, have done very well, moving to Utica has not in all cases been easy. In the 1990s, the civil war in Somalia caused a large influx of refugees into Kenya; now as many as 2000 have settled in Utica.


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In Coaxing Fire and Police Staffs in Arizona to Cut Own Pensions, Ken Belson (for The New York Times) discusses efforts in Arizona to cut back on pensions so as to relieve municipalities of their mandated contribution responsibilities. Arizona’s public pension system is excessively underfunded as a result of ill-fated investments, careless governance, and budget constraints. One effort to relieve the problem has failed after being deemed unconstitutional in Arizona for impairing benefits in the pension plan. Now efforts are being made to bypass the offending clause.


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In Companies Proclaim Water the Next Oil in a Rush to Turn Resources Into Profit, Suzanne McGee (for The Guardian) discusses the role of Nestle chairman Peter Brabeck in the push to commoditize fresh water. Brabeck argues that people have a right to water only to the extent necessary to allow their survival, beyond that people should have to pay for what they use, and this will incentivize more responsible use. But limiting a right to water to that required for survival produces unjustifiable results. However, there is a place for the free market in water, such as in devising more efficient ways of consuming water.


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In Obama’s Bombshell: The Unintended Consequences of Air Strikes in Iraq, Steven Simon (for Foreign Affairs) discusses five consequences of President Obama’s recent decision to launch air strikes in Iraq. Simon argues that the air strikes will allow Iraq to retain its free-rider status, will stain an already vulnerable minority with American favoritism, will unite Sunnis against other sects and fuel disdain for the US, will complicate relations with US allies in the Middle East, and will quickly hit a point of diminishing returns. Some of these problems may prove less manageable than others.

In Clinton Slams Obama on Foreign Policy, Echoing the Neocons and the Far Right, Bob and Barbara Dreyfuss (for The Nation) discuss Hilary Clinton’s foreign policy stance in light of her recent public statements that criticized the president’s cautious management of foreign affairs. The authors argue that Clinton’s foreign policy stance has always been more hawkish than that of Obama, and now it appears she is looking to avoid being outflanked by Republicans where foreign policy toughness is concerned.

In Does the Six-Year Itch Spell Doom for Obama?, Kevin Drum (for Mother Jones) discusses the strengths and weaknesses of the two-term presidency and considers whether a single six year term would be better. Scandals have a tendency to erupt half way through presidents’ second-terms, and this has been used as a basis to suggest that it would be better to just cut short a presidency before presidents get in trouble. But actually it is probably more often the case that what caused the scandal happened in the first term and took a few years to blow up. One way or another, people are usually sick of presidents after six years anyway, so perhaps six years would be good…but no one else seems to have tested it, so it’s difficult to say.

In Who Is Pulling the Strings at the School Nutrition Association, Michele Simon (for Al Jazeera America) discusses the question of why they School Nutrition Association (SNA), which represents the nation’s school food professionals, would reverse its position and oppose nutrition improvements to federally subsidized school meals. Simon considers whether the food industry may be behind it, but they seem to have no problem meeting the heightened requirements (which perhaps aren’t particularly stringent anyway). Then Simon considers whether it may be that the heightened requirements may put a strain on food workers, but some schools haven’t had any difficulty implementing heightened standards. Perhaps, Simon argues, the answer lies with one company in particular, Schwan, the pizza company that supplies pizza products in 75% of the nation’s K-12 schools.


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In The Spoils of War: Violence in Gaza Leads to Youth Radicalization, Julia Amalia Heyer (for Der Spiegel) discusses the likely repercussions of the current conflict in Gaza. Heyer argues that Israel needs to realize that there will be no military solution to the Gaza problem, every conflict breeds more resentment. Living conditions there need to be improved, not worsened.  But Israel’s response to Hamas has worsened those conditions and sometimes without any apparent justification. An entire generation of children in Gaza is growing up to hate Israel.