Digest: 25 November 2014




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In Bacteria Evolved to Save the Planet. Can We?, David Waltham (for The World Post) discusses how it is time we started to learn how to sustain rather than destroy the planet. Waltham considers the earth and climate change in a long time frame and likens the destructive presence of humans to cyanobacteria, which threatened all life on earth 2 billion years ago through release of noxious gases – specifically oxygen. That event, toxic to existing ecosystems, was what allowed for the evolution of large oxygen-reliant organisms such as ourselves. Just as cyanobacteria instigated a shift in the nature of life on earth, allowing life to survive despite a brightening sun, so may humans prove to save life on earth from another climatic event in the future. But if our descendants are going to do that, then we need to start learning how to guard rather than despoil.



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In $1 Billion: That’s How Much Walmart Avoids Paying in Taxes Each Year Through Loopholes, Michelle Chen (for The Nation) discusses ways that Walmart profits at the expense of working class consumers, its own employees, and US taxpayers, through the US tax and benefits systems. A recent analysis suggests that Walmart is avoiding paying taxes on as much as $21.4 billion in offshore profits. Additionally, Many Walmart employees are paid so little that they rely on Medicaid and food stamps – essentially the US taxpayer is subsidizing Walmart’s failure to provide a living wage. Meanwhile, Walmart uses its political leverage to lower corporate tax rates, protect off-shoring of profits and jobs, suppress living wage laws, and maintain its high carbon footprint business model. 

In America’s Prospects Are Promising Indeed, Fareed Zakaria (for The Washington Post) discusses how while the common perception is that the US is on the wrong track, actually it is doing very well, relatively speaking. Other major economics have been struggling, but the US is not doing too bad. Part of this can be attributed to some inherent geographic advantages that the US has such as a wide network of rivers, lots of arable land, natural harbors, and energy.  These factors, and others, have allowed the development of the world’s largest consumer market. Furthermore, with the development of domestic oil and gas production, the US now has less reason to involve itself in messy entanglements abroad which might drain its vitality. The scene in Washington certainly doesn’t inspire much confidence, but Americans can take some comfort at the very active local and state level, where governments are working with private interests to make necessary reforms and investments for growth.

In Study: Over 1.2 Million Veterans Lack Health Insurance, Marisa Taylor (for Al Jazeera America) discusses the results of a study that shows how a large number of veterans are uninsured because they do not qualify for Medicaid and are unable to afford private insurance or because they are unaware that they are eligible for care.  The veterans who are uninsured reflect non-veterans who are uninsured – they are younger, low-income, and have lower levels of education. More than a million of them are falling through the cracks and it is avoidable.


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In Brazil’s Epic Water Crisis a Global Wake-Up Call,  Kevin Allison and Antony Currie (for Reuters) discuss how Sau Paulo, a city of 20 million people responsible for a fifth of Brazil’s GDP, is running out of water.  The crisis is the result of a year long drought, broken-down infrastructure, and bad environmental and development policy. Short-term political considerations have kept the government from calling for rationing, but if the drought continues then major social unrest could take place when the water runs out. Such unrest could seriously destabilize the region, which is itself responsible for 40 percent of Brazil’s industrial production. Governments should take note of this as an example of what can be expected if natural resources are not protected, if infrastructure is allowed to degrade to the point of inefficiency, and if politicians fail in their duty.


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In 5 Assumptions About the Middle East That Are Just Plain Wrong, Andrew Bacevich (for The Nation) discusses how Washington maintains an inclination to fantasize about the reality of not just Iraq, but the Middle East as a whole. Bacevich argues that the presence of US forces in the Islamic world neither contribute to regional stability nor enhances American influence; that the Persian Gulf does not constitute a vital national security interest; that Egypt and Saudi Arabia are not valuable allies; that the interests of Israel and the US do not align; and that the US need not approach terrorism as something it must defeat.  And yet, Bacevich observes, the opposite opinion is given “quasi-canonical status” inside the Beltway.

In Hagel Was To Cut Military; Islamic State’s Rise Changed That, Nancy A. Youssef and Anita Kumar (for McClatchyDC) discuss the resignation of Chuck Hagel in the context of US national security policy. Obama’s next defense secretary will be his fourth, the most since Harry Truman. The change perhaps signifies a shift in thinking that earlier ideas about downsizing the military have been undermined by continuing conflict in the Middle East and that a different skill-set will be required. However, Hagel’s successor will face much the same challenges as Hagel and his two predecessors: tough goals with minimal involvement of ground troops,  shrinking budgets, and a White House that likes to be involved.

In Interview with Henry Kissinger, Juliane von Mittelstaedt and Erich Follath (for Der Spiegel) discuss with Kissinger some of the ideas from his recent book “World Order”.  Kissinger promotes the Westphalian Peace Treaty of 1648 as emblematic of what we should be looking to achieve in modern times. Globalization has progressed to the point that a world order has become necessary; but the development of any such order is complicated by a lack of universally accepted rules. The Westphalian Peace established the modern nation-state order to prevent the ongoing conflicts that existed in its absence.  The question, Kissinger points out, is whether a world order can be instigated and created through insight, or whether it will only be instigated in response to chaos.