Digest: 30 September 2014




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In John Oliver Puts American Drone Strikes Into Perspective, Carol Hartsell (for The Huffington Post) discusses John Oliver’s recent segment on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight” that questions whether we need to rethink a policy that causes children to fear a blue sky.  Hartsell highlights Oliver’s discussion of the terror implanted in children who grow up with drone strikes. Oliver’s segment also discusses the difficulty his researchers had in finding out anything about drone strikes. It seems this is partly due to the apparent fact that no one, including the Obama administration, really knows much about them.  This lack of accountability may result from a preference for not thinking about such an obviously ugly issue, but perhaps the time has come to ask some difficult questions.


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In History’s Largest Trade Agreements Are Being Negotiated in Secret, Alvaro Guzman Bastida (for Al Jazeera America) discusses the imbalance of interests taking part in the continuing negotiations of the TPP and TTIP trade agreements. Bastida begins with the observation that the Obama Administration has failed to live up to his promise to renegotiate NAFTA to better balance the interests of Wall Street and Main Street in that agreement. In the context of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the negotiations are being done in private and are being led by two Wall Street bankers. The overwhelming influence over the negotiations come from private industry and trade groups. Labor interests, academics, government officials, and environmental interests have been largely sidelined.

In The Truth About Taxes, Matt Mossman (for Foreign Affairs) discusses recent G-20 efforts to get multinational corporations to pay more taxes. The OECD has been working fast to prepare its Action Plan on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting for the G-20 leaders, which analyses how tax systems can be modernized to better take globalization into account. Mossman describes the difficulty in determining how much tax should be paid, the methods by which the OECD Plan might address those, and the likely difficulty in implementing the necessary changes with so many conflicting interests at stake.


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In Half of Global Wildlife Lost, Says New WWF Report, the World Wildlife Fund presents its findings regarding major wildlife population losses over the last 40 years. The Report measures populations of vertebrate species, the human ecological footprint, and existing biocapacity. It recommends an accelerated shift to smarter food and energy production, more responsible consumption patters, and the taking into account of natural capital valuations in policy decisions. Currently the planet’s ability to support our way of life is being destroyed.


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In War Without End, Jack Shafer (for Reuters) discusses why US military involvement in Syria can be expected to last potentially for decades. The nature of the conflict there, and the shifting allegiances involved, makes resolution incredibly complicated. As a result it is very difficult to say what success can even be said to consist of. Shafer argues that by bombing Syria, President Obama has made this his war, but it will certainly be passed down to the next administration; the irony is that it will be a perpetual war justified as a means to peace.

In White House Plans To Require Federal Agencies To Provide Details About Drones, Craig Whitlock (for The Washington Post) discusses the dearth of information on the scope of domestic drone use largely due to heightened secrecy surrounding surveillance operations. Domestic drone use by the Pentagon is expected to increase significantly in the coming years, but so far efforts to regulate drones and strengthen privacy protections have failed to pass in Congress. The current effort would require federal agencies to be more transparent about their domestic surveillance capabilities, and the mechanisms they have in place to protect the information they collect.

In All in All, Eric Holder Was Just Another Brick in the Wall, Jack Shafer (for Reuters) discusses Eric Holder’s legacy as US Attorney General.  Shafer first considers the difficulties of the job, and the consistent critique AG can expect to receive from the opposition party and the press. Holder has received criticism just as his predecessors did, but curiously perhaps considering his record on the US’s largest issues would do George W. Bush’s Attorneys General John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales proud.


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In American Education Is Leaving Our Youth With a Debt Sentence, Astra Taylor and Hannah Appel (for The Nation) discuss the commoditization of American students by for-profit corporations.  While the for-profit model has been lucrative for investors, it has too often failed to provide a useful education for students while loading those students with debt they are unlikely to be able to pay off. Some of the most egregious examples are being investigated by law enforcement authorities, but in one important case instead of discharging the debt of defrauded students the Department of Education has chosen to keep the students on the hook while unwinding the company and profiting as its de facto debt collector. The government, like the corporations it is inadequately regulating, is treating education as a profit center.