Digest: 12 May 2013

Abstract

Economic potential in the US is being strangled and impeded, Congress could help if it were more functional; Carbon emissions are acidifying the Arctic Ocean, it is not clear what the results will be but they may be serious; Mayor Bloomberg is expanding recycling in New York at a faster rate than New York has seen in more than 20 years; Republicans are “hollowing out” government when they can’t get laws repealed – if the law or regulatory agency is already in place the best way to weaken it is to fail to fund it; The current Supreme Court is the most business-friendly court at least since World War II, all current conservative justices are in the top ten of most business-friendly since 1945 and the top two most business-friendly justices of that period are current justices Roberts and Alito; Cyber-warfare has so far been mainly manifested in the context of espionage, but the risk of more disruptive cyber incursions must be taken seriously; Modern US society is increasingly rewarding self-directed innovators, this is good for those who fall into that type but less good for millions of others whose livelihood will be increasingly at risk; Pension-advance companies are preying off retired firefighters, military veterans, police officers and teachers, who need ready cash through difficult times – the debt carried by the 65-74 age group is rising faster than any other; Efforts to regulate the collection and sharing of personal information by online companies are needed, but they do not take account of the enormous amounts of personal data already collected.

Economics

In Heading the Wrong Way, and in The Warnings Behind the Numbers, the New York Times Editorial Board and Steven Rattner (for The New York Times), respectively, discuss the state of the US economy and its trajectory going forward.  They paint a concerning picture of structural issues that undermine the US economic situation.  Although there are signs of strength, these are strangled by lack of progress in other areas which will impede the development taking place.  Particularly worrying is that many of these strangling factors cannot be relied upon to self-correct, and while Congress could ameliorate the situation it is not currently sufficiently functional to do so.

Environmental

In Arctic Ocean ‘Acidifying Rapidly’, Roger Harrabin (for BBC News) discusses the uncertainty surrounding the effects of observed acidification of arctic seas by carbon dioxide emissions.   In the arctic, acidification is exacerbated by large quantities of fresh water (the result of melting ice) which is less able to chemically neutralize the acidifying effects of carbon dioxide.  It is expected that major changes will occur in marine ecosystems, but it is not yet clear what the results will be – for example, harm to the healthy development of fish eggs.

Politics

In The Mayor Rethinks Recycling, the New York Times Editorial Board discusses Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts to improve New York’s recycling program.  Bloomberg, early on in his mayorship, diminished the program to save money.  He has since instigated the biggest expansion in New York’s recycling in more than 20 years – including not only the recycling of hard plastics, but also increased composting of food waste from New York restaurants.  He wants the city to reuse 70% of its waste by 2030.

In The Hollowing Our of Government, Robert Reich discusses the political strategy of “hollowing out” – the failure to fund the enforcement or implementation of a law considered to be adverse.  This strategy has been kept well in play by congressional Republicans when they have been unsuccessful in defeating or repealing laws – notable examples include OSHA (2200 workplace inspectors for 8 million workplaces and 130 million workers), taxes (reduce IRS funding results in less tax collection), financial regulation (agencies charged with implementing Dodd Frank Act underfunded), an health care (Health and Human Services Agency understaffed).  The result is a government that looks incompetent, but the reason it looks this way is because its being undermined.

In Corporations Find a Friend in the Supreme Court, Adam Liptak (for The New York Times) discusses the remarkably business-friendly nature of the current Supreme Court.  A new study shows that under Chief Justice Roberts the Supreme Court’s rulings have been friendlier to business than any other Court at least since World War II.  The study ranks the 36 justices who have served on the Supreme Court in that time according to the proportion of their pro-business votes – all five of the current courts more conservative justices appear in the top ten with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito at the top of the list.  Sometimes the most notable and far-reaching cases are ones that are not featured in the news – such as procedural decisions that undermine the probability for the success of class action lawsuits.

In Don’t Underestimate Cyber Spies, Richard Bejtlich (for Foreign Affairs) discusses the three branches of “cyber-warfare”: computer network defense (protecting), computer network exploitation (spying), and computer network attack (disrupting).  “Cyber-warfare” is commonly used in a loose way to refer to any activity involving infiltration of computer systems, regardless of whether connected to any overall war situation.  In respect of offensive action, cyber-espionage has been most prevalent, but disruptive action of both vandalistic and systematic nature has occurred and the continuing threat of such disruption is too great to allow for inaction.

Social

In It’s a 401(k) World, Thomas Friedman ( for The New York Times) discusses how the employment market has shifted in the last decade to a world in which workers must be more self-motivated and innovative in order to succeed.  This shift was obscured by 9/11 and the financial crisis, but is important because many are not skilled in these attributes and those people will have a hard time competing.  If this population is not to be sidelined to relative poverty, it will be important to find a way to incorporate their contribution.

In Loans Borrowed Against Pensions Squeeze Retirees, Jessica Silver-Greenberg (for The New York Times) discusses how pension-advance companies are preying off people who need cash to cover basic living expenses – these retirees include firefighters, military veterans, police officers, and teachers.  The combined debt of Americans from the ages 65-74 is rising faster than that of any other age group.

In When Your Data Wanders to Places You’ve Never Been, Natasha Singer (for The New York Times) discusses the collection and passing on of personal data by online advertisers, data brokers, and other third-party operators.  While efforts are being made to increase regulation of the sharing of personal information, these efforts do not take into account the enormous quantities of personal details already amassed by entities with an interest in that information.