Digest: 25 February 2014

 

 

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 In The Shocking Numbers Behind Corporate Welfare, David Cay Johnston (for Al Jazeera America) discusses how 75% of government subsidies for business goes to fewer than 1000 large corporations. The research was done by a nonprofit called Good Jobs First, which has spent years digging into state disclosure documents. Subsidies are handed out in a variety of forms, and while “detailed statistical reports on welfare to the poor, dialed, sick, elderly and other individuals who cannot support themselves” abound, no comprehensive system exists to monitor and measure subsidies to companies. It turns out that Boeing, ALCOA, Intel, General Motors and Ford top the list taking between them more than a quarter of the total $110 billion amount.

 

Economic

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In For Hints at Apple’s Plans, Read Its Shopping List, Brian X. Chen (for The New York Times) discusses how despite Apple’s enormous stockpile of cash it has been acquiring companies on a much smaller scale than other tech giants.  But its acquisitions give a sense as to the direction Apple is heading. It has bought companies for their specific skill-sets or well-functioning teams, for new technology that can be implemented in existing products, to catch up in areas where they are weak, or in important technological developments such as 3D sensors.

In Global Banking: Inglorious Isolation, The Economist discusses how as a result of the financial crisis regulators in the US are becoming more protective and making requirements of foreign banks that undermine the global movement of finance. The Dodd Frank Act imposed heightened capital requirements on foreign owned bank holding companies. But requiring multinational banks to hold money in one jurisdiction impedes their ability to efficiently utilize that money where it is most needed. Some large banks got around the law by changing their structure. Now a new Federal Reserve rule will prevent them from skirting the law.  This may have the effect of causing other countries to do the same, further undermining the fluid cooperation of different jurisdictions in regulating such banks.

 

Environmental 

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In USDA Spending $3m to Feed Honeybees in Midwest, M.I. Johnson (for Associated Press) discusses how the US Department of Agriculture is acting to reduce honeybee deaths.  An estimated $15 billion worth of produce is reliant on pollination by bees in the US each year, but bee populations have been suffering catastrophically as a result of habitat loss and the use of pesticides. The $3m will be used, for example, to help farmers seed their pastures with plants that provide bees with healthy sources of food like clover and alfalfa across the midwest.

In California Drought: Why Farmers are ‘Exporting Water’ to China, Alastair Leithead (for BBC News) discusses how while central California has been suffering its worst drought on record, the Imperial Valley of southern California has water to spare. The Imperial Valley receives cheap water from the Colorado River via the All American Canal, but instead of working out a way to get some of that water to farmers further north vast quantities of water are being used to grow hay to be exported to China. Because of the ongoing US/China trade imbalance, shippers are keen to fill their empty ships for the return journey to China. Critics describe this as, essentially, exporting much needed water to China.

In Dangerous Ingredients, Christina Sarich (for Natural Society) discusses how 54% of Food Sold at Walmart is Banned by Whole Foods Market. Setting aside GMOs, Whole Foods keeps a black list of ingredients that it won’t sell in its stores due to health concerns. Most of the food sold in Walmart would not pass the blacklist. Apparently even items like water contain ingredients like sucralose, calcium disodium, EDTA, acesulfame potassium, and potassium sorbate, none of which are allowed in Whole Foods Markets. Sarich recommends not that people shop at Whole Foods, but that people  at the least locate nearby sources of quality food so that they don’t have to shop at Walmart, and that due to hidden costs food shopping at Walmart is not as cheap as people like to think.

 

Political

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In The Clear Benefits of a Higher Wage, The Editorial Board of The New York Times discusses the inaccuracy of Republican representations of the recent Congressional Budget Office report on raising the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016. Republicans quickly jumped on language in the report that 500,000 jobs could be lost in the event of such an increase, but what they fail to mention is that the CBO was almost entirely positive about the effects of the suggested increase – indeed the increase would be expected to add $31 billion to the paychecks of lower and middle income families, which of course would have a significant effect on their spending power in the market place.

 

Social

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In Creating the World We Want, Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers (for Nation of Change) discuss the development of an “economic democracy” agenda.  In recognition of the importance of knowing not just what one doesn’t want but also what one wants, Zeese and Flowers consider some options going forward. They contrast their ideas from neoliberal economics in that they see neoliberalism as a force that “privatizes public goods and seeks to commodify everything possible”.  This approach is not ideal and is beginning to be overrun by new developments in ground-up economies that better serve local communities.

In Mathematics: Why the Brain Sees Maths as Beauty, James Gallagher (for BBC News) discusses research showing that mathematician’s brains respond the same way to elegant equations as to beautiful artwork or music. The most beautiful equations seem to be those that have a simplicity about them, equations whose harmonious complexity unfolds with consideration of their potential.

In The Real Problem with US Common Core: It Further Outsources Education, Ana Marie Cox (for The Guardian) discusses how people on the right and left are responding negatively to the Common Core approach to education.  On the right, people like Glenn Beck assert it is a system loaded with extreme leftist ideology. But now New York State has started to take issue with it as well. It is worth remembering that Common Core is not an Obama Administration product; rather it is the result of business interests determining what is best for children. But business interests have a conflict of interest, as has been demonstrated by the imposition of corporate logos and promotional material in students’ reading passages. Marketing is designed to inhibit critical thinking, but critical thinking is what our students need perhaps most of all.