Digest: 12 November 2013




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In The Devolution of the Seas, Alan B. Sielen (for Foreign Affairs) discusses the human destruction of life in the oceans and its repercussions. Pollution and overfishing has done immense damage to the biodiversity and quantity of ocean life. Pollution, particularly in the form of industrial chemicals and fertilizers, has created large areas of sea devoid of ocean life – the world’s biggest is in the Baltic Sea, but one the size of New Jersey can be found where the Mississippi meets the Gulf of Mexico. Modern fishing practices sweep the ocean clean of fish over vast areas miles wide and thousands of feet deep – the number of large fish in the oceans is thought to have declined by 90% since 1950 and natural habitats that have thrived for millennia are razed.  Global warming and ocean acidification will compound the problem by destroying coral reefs with their complex interrelated ecosystems.  If we continue as we have been the oceans will return to a barren state not seen in hundreds of millions of years, which will in turn be catastrophic for human life.



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In Psychology: Time is Not Money, The Economist discusses two aphorisms, one which says that the love of money is the root of all evil, and another that says that time is money. Recent research has shown that what people think of prior to making a decision can effect the way they make the decision; specifically, that when people are primed to think about money their propensity to cheat increases and the more people are primed to think about time the more honest they become.  On this basis, The Economist concludes that it seems that it can not be said that a love of time is a root of evil too.



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In Noam Chomsky Slams Canada’s Shale Gas Energy Plans, Martin Lukas (for Guardian) discusses an interview with Chomsky who points out that the indigenous people of Canada are taking the lead there in combatting climate change. Despite serious concern over the environmental repercussions of shale gas extraction, Canada is charging ahead in that direction. Chomsky argues that deficient markets are a major issue behind climate change to the extent they ignore the externalities of business practices.



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In Restoring Trans-Atlantic Trust, Wolfgang Ischinger (for New York Times) discusses how the US seems to have failed to adequately assess the political risks of spying on foreign heads of state. The result is that the US has undermined the trust of its European allies and will now need to work to make it up. Ischinger considers three necessary factors in how to proceed, President Obama must show contrition, Europeans must resist the desire to seek payback, and the US should take the lead in developing confidence-building measures.

In How We Have Ended Up Paying for 1 Percenters’ Beach Vacation Homes, (for AlterNet) discusses flood insurance subsidies in the US and developments in the federal flood insurance program. Reforms are much needed and yet they have been delayed in Congress due to political difficulties regarding the removal of homeowner subsidies that reform would entail. As difficult as it may be for people to stomach increased insurance costs for their high risk properties, until flood insurance rates reflect the actual risk of damage the eventual costs of current inaction will continue to increase.

In An Optimist’s View of the White House, Ian Bremmer (for Reuters) discusses that while there is much to regret in the Obama presidency, it hasn’t been a complete failure.  Bremmer provides eight examples of areas where Obama can claim success, on the economy, on his response to the 9/11 era, his use of Ben Bernanke, his handling of Iran, his pivot to Asia, his stance on energy, his reduction of the deficit, and the Dodd-Frank Act.

In The End of Hypocrisy, Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore (for Foreign Affairs) discuss a major and little discussed repercussion of the Manning and Snowden leaks – the effect of them on the ability for the US to engage in hypocrisy.  The leaks deny the US plausible deniability by specifically contradicting public statements by the government regarding its activities. The US can and does engage in activities that are inconsistent with the practices it publicly expects other countries to live by. It has two choices: it could follow China and Russia’s example by unapologetically pursuing its interests without pretending to do otherwise, or it could act to better live up to its rhetoric.


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In Privacy Pretense, Abraham Newman (for Foreign Affairs) discusses the role that silicon valley has played in the NSA’s unprecedented ability to collect information. While tech companies purport shock at the revelations of NSA spying, many of their own business models are based on the ability to collect as much information as possible about their customers. Newman compares the approach to privacy law in the US to that in Europe, for example, and points to the prevalent self-regulation in the US, which has meant laxity both domestically and to the extent possible in international markets as well.  He suggests four key parts of a strategy that if incorporated would form a better privacy system than the one we have.

In Marijuana and Alcohol, the Editorial Board of The New York Times discusses an unforeseen potential benefit of marijuana legalization. Recent research has found that legalization of marijuana for medical purposes is associated with decreased usage of alcohol in young people. If marijuana could indeed be a substitute, there might be something to be said for allowing it to be – marijuana impairs driving very little, whereas alcohol does the opposite.

In Plutocrats vs. Populists, Chrystia Freeland (for New York Times) discusses how despite all the power that the plutocrats hold, they are being overrun by the influence of the populists.  Plutocrats transform money into power through exerting influence on the government through lobbying, and through activist engagement with public policy and social problems.  But the rise of the plutocrats power has come at the expense of the populists, alienated by policies that do not seem to be to their benefit. This wave of negative response is rising on both the right and the left, in the US and in Europe.