Digest: 4 March 2014

 

 

Highlight

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In The Brilliant, Unnerving Meta-Marketing of ‘The Lego Movie’, Heather Havrilesky (for The New York Times) discusses the psychologically multi-layered marketing approach of the new Lego movie. Ultimately, Havrilesky argues, it is a brilliantly seductive infomercial that “appears to (but doesn’t actually) undercut [its own] corporate message”.  As such it epitomizes the pinnacle of corporate branding, acknowledging while morally undermining what it is doing, but then doing it anyway, and getting away with it.  The child’s imagination is the ultimate power that eventually overcomes the evil consumerist force that would undermine it. But, while that is the case, Lego’s products become ever more specific, ever more directly themed, ever further from the simple primary-colored building blocks that represent the beautiful simplicity of the child’s imagination, and no doubt its sales will soar as a result.

Economic

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In Blue-Green Opportunities: Energy Efficiency and Jobs Impacts in the U.S. Manufacturing Resurgence, Nate Aden (for World Resources Institute) discusses the increases in US manufacturing in the last two years. He argues that continued growth will be dependent on factors including environmental initiatives. In the event of large shifts in markets not all industries will be able to grow, but some environmental efficiencies can help the growth in certain sectors. For example, the World Resources Institute calculate that Midwest pulp and paper mills can save almost a quarter of a billion dollars per year through improving their energy efficiency.

In New Fed Study Says Health Reform Can Reduce Financial Stress, Wendell Potter (for The Center for Public Integrity) discusses how the Massachussetts health care reform law, on which the Affordable Care Act is based, has directly resulted in a notable increase in financial stability and security.  Medical cost related debt is the leading cause of personal bankruptcies in the US, more prevalent than those related to credit card or mortgage debt. By helping people to avoid high medical costs, the Massachussetts healthcare system has helped people to financial ruin. This, it hardly need be said, brings about positive repercussions for the overall economy. It is not guaranteed that the Affordable Care Act will produce the same results, but the news is encouraging.

Environmental 

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In California Endangered Species: Plastic Bags, Ian Lovett (for The New York Times) discusses how California is well on its way to doing away with single use plastic bags. In certain municipalities of California, plastic bags have been banned since 2007 and the movement is growing. Plastic shopping bags do not biodegrade and they generally get used only once or twice. When disposed of they block drainage grates causing floods, they pollute the sea, and they sit around in landfills. They are coming to be seen as the epitome of wastefulness. Some plastic bag companies are fighting back, arguing that if plastic bags are banned then jobs will be lost. But others are recognizing that if they change with the times, then they can be a part of the shift towards recyclables, rather than a victim of it.

Political

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In Covert Drone War: UN Report Identifies 30 Drone Strikes that Require ‘Public Explanation’, Alice K. Ross (for The Bureau of Investigative Journalism) discusses British barrister Ben Emmerson’s report for the UN on civilian deaths as a result of drone attacks. Emmerson has analyzed 37 strikes carried out by US, UK, and Israel between the years 2006 and 2013. Of these he has singled out those which he believes require public explanation as a matter of international law due to the civilian deaths involved. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that as many as 400 civilian deaths have occurred as a result of drone strikes in Pakistan alone. But the numbers are far more hazy in Somalia for instance where information on such strikes is scarce.

In Are the Democrats Getting Too Liberal?, Andrew Kohut (for The Washington Post) discusses how while the focus has largely been on the Tea Party where political polarization is concerned, polls show that Democrats too have shifted to become more liberal. Kohut describes the Obama administration as centrist and points out that many of the more liberal social policies have been pushed more by state and local initiatives rather than by federal initiatives.  Power in the Democratic party remains with the relatively moderate and conservative, whereas in the Republican party power has shifted to the more conservative. The more liberal Democrats thus, like the more conservative Republicans, differ in views not only with their party as a whole but of course also with much of the rest of the country.

In The State of the International Order, Bruce Jones, Thomas Wright, Jeremy Shapiro and Robert Keane (for The Brookings Institution) present the findings of their report on international cooperation in the economic, diplomatic and security realms.  They discuss eleven characteristics of the international order and explain their significance for the future.  Their dissuasion focuses on fault lines remaining following the financial crisis, Europe’s situation following a decade of lost growth, the changing patterns of international trade, challenges facing the BRICs, geopolitical competition, difficulty in managing conflicting interests in ocean resources, the use of force, human security, interventions in insecure states like Syria and Libya, energy geopolitics, and the repercussions for Gulf states of US energy independence.

In Putin’s Anti-Olympic Creed, Strobe Talbott (for Reuters) discusses the long background to the Russian interest in Ukraine. The Russian invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula reminds us that just six years ago Putin sent troops to occupy another independent sovereign territory, Georgia. The timing now is particularly remarkable as Putin has only just finished hosting the Olympic Games in Russia, an event that symbolizes, and indeed actually consists of, the peaceful coming together of nations. The relationship between Russia and Ukraine is a long one though, and it seems that for Putin, who considers the loss of the USSR one of the greatest ever catastrophes, the loss of Russian influence over Ukraine to the EU is an eventuality that should be avoided even at risk of the greatest threat of war Europe has known since the fall of the Berlin Wall. To Putin, the West remains the threat it was to the Soviet Union; what he seems to fail to realize is that the greatest threats to Russia by far are not to the west, but to the south and east, not to mention those which are purely domestic.

Social

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In Results for 2013 NAEP Mathematics and Reading Assessments Are In, the National Center for Education Statistics discusses that there has been improvement in the results of maths and reading assessments for US fourth and eighth graders. The results are marginally better than those for 2012, but the gains are more significant when compared with the results of 1990′s assessments. The results are broken down to take account of shifts amount White, Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American, and Male and Females.

In On Academic Labor: How Education Ought To Be, Noam Chomsky (for Counterpunch) discusses the breakdown of our university system in the US.  He argues that lessons learned from the capitalistic world of business are being applied in academic institutions, and that some of these are undermining the beneficial role that universities can play in society. One major factor in this is the hiring of faculty off the tenure track. This is equivalent to WalMart hiring temporary employees so that it doesn’t have to provide benefits.  It is a mechanism designed to reduce costs and increase servility. Those without security are more easy to control, and in universities the result is exacerbated and reinforced when power is taken away from full time tenured faculties and placed in the hands of administrators and managers. Education policy has too much embraced the idea of “teaching to test” as opposed to teaching students to inquire, to create, to innovate, and to challenge.