Digest: 21 October 2014




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In Homer Describing Big Oil, Bevis Longstreth (via The Huffington Post) argues that fiduciaries should divest from fossil fuels to counter the rising costs of climate change. Longstreth, in his speech to the Boston Carbon Risk Forum at Harvard Law School, points to both financial and moral reasons to divest. He argues that investments in fossil fuels run the risk of becoming stranded as markets inevitably eventually shift towards renewables, but that financial markets so far have been slow to adapt. The moral grounds, he argues, revolve around public interest and how important it is that people in positions of influence utilize that influence responsibly.


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In China’s Silk Road Revival, Shashi Tharoor (for Project Syndicate) discusses Chinese President Xi Jinping’s efforts to establish land and maritime trade routes in the mould of the old Silk Road. The Chinese government hopes the Silk Road economic initiative will help to balance the increasing economic gap between eastern and western China. Not all of China’s neighbors have happy memories of China’s previous efforts to increase trade in the region.

In The Dark Market for Personal Data, Frank Pasquale (for The New York Times) discusses the need for privacy protections to be set in place to protect people from data miners, brokers and resellers. These data providers collect data on people and process that data into lists that can be sold to buyers enabling them to more specifically targeting their marketing. The lists are often inaccurate and damaging, have no business being in the hands of retailers, bosses or banks, and there is no way for people to correct bad information.

In The Moral Economy of Debt, Robert Skidelsky (for Project Syndicate) discusses the necessity for flexibility in the debtor/creditor relationship. While our society firmly holds that creditors should be repaid in full, there is also precedent for forgiveness of debt that we should not forget. Currently, people and governments are overburdened with debt and this brings the risk of conflict. We need to learn to be more sensible about how much credit is allowed to be provided and how much debt is allowed to be incurred.


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In Those Bee-Killing Pesticides? They’re Actually Pretty Useless, Tom Philpott (for Mother Jones) discusses how the pesticides that have been killing off bees and harming other creatures don’t make a blind bit of difference to crop yields. A recent economic assessment by the EPA has discovered that there is no economic benefit from the use of soybeans or corn treated with neonicotinoids. But some farmers are having trouble obtaining untreated seeds, and others may have simply been taken in by chemical company marketing which makes claims apparently now largely debunked.


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In Elizabeth Warren Makes a Powerful Case, Eugene Robinson (for The Washington Post) discusses the possibility that Warren may be what will be needed to get Democrats out in sufficient numbers for the midterm elections. Robinson considers Warren’s position on several issues but focuses on Warren’s central argument, that government failure has led to inequality. On this topic she has created a strong position for herself as the key popular spokesperson. It may be that she won’t run because Hilary Clinton is running, but perhaps Clinton is not what democrats are calling for.


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In The Imperative of Revolt, Chris Hedges (for Truthdig) discusses his conversations with two political philosophers, specifically their views on how unchecked corporate power undermines democracy and what can be done about it. Hedges considers the concept of “inverted totalitarianism”, a system in which the structures of liberal democracy remain in place and apparently active, while in reality they have been gutted of power and influence. The real power is hidden in secrecy, its machinations largely invisible in their subtlety – even radical changes, such as the development of a totalitarian state, go unnoticed.

In The Truth About Evil, John Gray (for The Guardian) discusses how liberal ideas that evil is something that can be eradicated may be misguided and damaging.  Gray argues that neither our religious background, nor our Greek and Roman political science inheritance, nor even Freud, gives us a basis for assuming that what we call evil can in fact be eradicated. The notion that evil is eradicable is to western religious orthodoxy essentially an heretical belief, though it is maintained by mainstream political leaders. The problem is that the view creates increased conflict through picking a fight that cannot be won.