Digest: 18 February 2014

 

 

Highlight

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 In Century of Violence, Bernhard Zand (for Der Spiegel) discusses the role that the resolution of World War I and its aftermath played in the ongoing violence and unrest in the Middle East.  In the aftermath of World War I the Ottoman Empire’s holdings in the Middle East were carved up by the British and French governments according to their respective economic interests and without sufficient consideration of the ethnic reality on the ground. The result of this and other factors including the discovery of oil in the region and Cold War political tension has been ongoing war and civil strife.

Economic

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With his documentary film, Terms and Conditions May Apply, Cullen Hoback exposes the extent to which we have gradually given away our privacy by incrementally agreeing to give what is already unprecedented access to our personal information.  The contracts that websites and phone companies ask us to agree to, their Terms and Conditions, have shifted over time to demand more and more scope as regards the use of personal information. It is well-known that nobody reads these documents and yet they are upheld in law. The result is the ability of companies to collect vast amounts of data that they can sell or use as they like. The social consequences are enormous, and yet we are striding along largely without a care.

Environmental 

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 In Financier Plans Big Ad Campaign on Climate Change, Nicholas Confessore (for The New York Times) discusses investor Tom Steyer’s efforts to raise $100 million to support politicians who will fight for greater action on climate change. Like other billionaires such as the Koch brothers and Michael Bloomberg, Steyer has become known for political activism, but like those others the activism has developed into sophisticated and well-funded direct efforts to influence elections.

In Kerry Blasts Climate Change Deniers at Indonesia Environment Talk, Al Jazeera America discusses the Secretary of State’s comments on the likely effects of climate change on Indonesia, and the danger of continued failure to respond to the threat. Much of Indonesian development is low-lying and will be devastated by rising seas and increasingly intense storms. A global effort is required to shift policy and practice towards massive diminishment of greenhouse gas emissions. The US and China, the world’s two largest emitters, are in talks to cooperate more closely on combating climate change.

Political

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In Spying by N.S.A. Ally Entangled U.S. Law Firm, James Risen and Laura Poitras (for The New York Times) discuss how the Australian Signals Directorate spied on a US law firm while it represented the Indonesian government in trade talks with the US. It is not clear from the document whether information was shared by the Australians with US trade representatives, but the US NSA and its Australian counterpart have been shown in other Snowden documents to work closely together on a number of fronts.

 In When Free Speech Becomes ‘Terrorism’, Lori Gruen (for Al Jazeera America) discusses limitations placed on animal rights protesters by the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. She argues that calling actions that protest cruel practices terrorism suggests a major fault in our policy position where free speech and basic morality are concerned. The fact that such protests get labelled terrorism suggest the economic interests of factory farming outweigh the moral interests in preventing cruel practices as well as our constitutional interests in protecting free speech.

In Why Now Is the Time to Reform How We Elect the President, The Editors of The Nation discuss Project 45, The Nation’s effort to specifically work towards increasing the visibility of non-mainstream presidential candidates. They describe how the electoral process has been developed by the main two parties to make it all but impossible to run if you are not either on either the Democrat or Republican ticket. The Nation will engage on a number of fronts to support the efforts of non-party-affiliated efforts.

Social

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In The Realism of Global Optimism, Bjorn Lomborg (for Project Syndicate) discusses how for all the doom and gloom there are a few measures by which life can be said to have markedly improved.  Lomborg takes comfort in statistics from the World Bank and the Copenhagen Consensus that show that the proportion of extremely poor has declined, as has illiteracy and war when compared with the last century.  

With their documentary film, Shadows of Liberty, Dan Cantagallo and Jean-Phillipe Tremblay describe the concentration of media power in the hands of just five for-profit conglomerates. These companies together hold influence to the extent they control information. By selectively feeding information to the population, based on unprecedented knowledge of consumers individually and collectively, these enterprises can materially shape not only economic markets and politics, but also the fundamentals of how we interact as a society.

In Jaywalking: How the Car Industry Outlawed Crossing the Road, Aidan Lewis (for BBC News) discusses how the notion of ‘jaywalking’ was developed as a propaganda tool by the auto industry in the 1920s to shift blame for rising pedestrian deaths away from motorists and onto walkers.  The shift was adopted, cars were new and exciting, pedestrians were forgotten. As a result, in almost 100 years since then pedestrians have been left out of consideration by street planners.