Digest: 29 April 2014




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In US Death Row Study: 4% of Defendants Sentenced to Die Are Innocent, Ed Pilkington (for The Guardian) discusses how based on statistical data it has been determined that as many as 200 current inmates are innocent and will never be recognized as such. Approximately 1.6% of inmates removed from death row are exonerated, but this rate should be at least 4.1%. Those who are not are exonerated often are given life sentences without parol.  Because they no longer receive the priority status associated with death row, the chance of their innocence being discovered plummets.     


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In The American Middle Class is No Longer the World’s Richest, David Leonhardt and Kevin Quealy (for The New York Times) discuss how Canada has recently taken over as the country with the most affluent middle class.  While the wealth of America’s upper class has risen, incomes of the middle and lower classes have fallen relative to countries including Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden.  The trend looks set to continue.

In Apple, Google to Pay $324 Million to Settle Conspiracy Lawsuit, Dan Levine (for Reuters) discusses how the settlement has come shortly before the trial was to begin. The alleged conspiracy – to not hire each other’s engineers – included Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe. In 2010, as settlement in an investigation by the US Department of Justice, these companies agreed not to engage in no-hire agreements.

In Looking for the Needle in a Stack of Needles: Tracking Economic Activities in the Age of Big Data, Manju Bansal (for MIT Technology Review) discusses new big data based efforts to hone in on the black market.  The black market is thought to account for as much as 15% of US GDP per year at $2 trillion and has broad implications for concerns including national security, tax collection, and public sector services. New technology is being designed to better track the passage of these illegitimate funds into legitimate interests.

In Foreign Affairs Focus on Books: Thomas Piketty on Economic Inequality, Justin Vogt (for Foreign Affairs) interviews French economist Thomas Piketty on the theories he proposes in his new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century.  In discussing why inequality is an issue that people should care about, he describes the history of inequality in terms of the relationship between overall economic growth and the rate of return on property owned by investors. For most of history the relationship has been one of minimal growth and relatively high returns. That relationship shifted with the World Wars and the economic damage that resulted from that period, but it is now returning to extreme levels.  He suggests progressive wealth taxation potentially applied through property taxes.

In How Big Chicken Took Over America, Michele Simon (for Al Jazeera America) discusses the chicken farming industry and efforts by the Department of Agriculture to speed up production in the factories.  The suggestion has met with criticism due to recent reports demonstrating serious issues related to cleanliness, worker safety, and limited inspection resources. It is thought that if production is allowed to increase then the problems will get worse. The meat industry is very powerful as a result of years of consolidation and has successfully kept further antitrust regulation at bay. The result though is that the meat industry plays a highly destructive role in rural America.


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In Most US Apples Coated with Chemical Banned in Europe, Ecowatch (via Nation of Change) discusses the prevalent use of the pesticide diphenylamine (DPA) in the US, a chemical that is banned in the EU because the industry that makes it failed to demonstrate that it was safe to use.  EC officials are concerned that treating fruit with DPA can result in the presence of carcinogens in sufficient quantity to a create health risk. The US EPA has expressed no such concerns, and meanwhile children are consuming DPA on apples, in apple juice and apple sauce, and in baby food.


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In Why 21st Century Capitalism Can’t Last, Bhaskar Sunkara (for Al Jazeera) discusses Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century.   The problem of inequality is both economic and political, and the power divergence has recently been reinforced through two Supreme Court decisions. The democratization that in the West is taken for granted was not a state of nature, it was wrested from elites over the course of centuries and revolutions.  In the present, as time passes the inequality will become increasingly difficult to rectify as economic and political power becomes further entrenched.  Sunkara argues that the interest shown in Piketty’s book is a good sign, it shows that people are at least thinking about the issue.