Digest: 7 January 2014

 

 

Highlight

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In A Point of View: Perils of Belief, John Gray (for BBC News Magazine) discusses the problems of belief, both religious and secular. Taking as his starting point the experience of the travel writer Norman Lewis with a Christian missionary and the indigenous people of Vietnam. But while religion gets the most part of the blame for holding to unsubstantiated belief and pushing it on others, the secular world also produces its fair share of problems. In the 20th century, the bulk of belief-based problems arose from belief in reason, with terrible acts justified as necessary for development and modernisation.

 

Economic

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In The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power, George Friedman (for Stratfor Global Intelligence) discusses the origins of the diminishing situation of the middle class. He describes how single families now require two earners to provide what fifty years ago a single earner could provide. This has undermined the expectation of upward mobility, a fundamental assumption of American culture. Contributing to the shift, the re-engineering of corporations towards ever-greater efficiency has shifted owners and workers further and further apart. The long term result presents a great danger, the undermining of the US social fabric and the consequent undermining of US global power.

In The Coming Stock Market Collapse, David Cay Johnston (for Al Jareeza America) discusses the irrational  exuberance currently to be seen in tech stock investment. The current exuberance surrounding tech companies has been fueled by certain valuation methodologies and the failure of the financial press to question the resulting valuations. The nature of the market means that investing, even at the core of the market, entails a high degree of speculation.

In Perpetual Unemployment and Underemployment, Gary Reber (for Nation of Change) discusses the mistake made by many economists in focusing on job creation in addressing the problem of growing inequality. With technological advancement income production is increasingly concentrated in capital ownership rather than wage earning. It is a mistake to assume that full employment is a priority of business, to the extent that a business can be run with greater economic efficiency with fewer workers it is incentivized to do so. Reber recommends instituting programs to involve a greater segment of the population in capital ownership. 

 

Political

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In NSA Seeks to Build Quantum Computer that Could Crack Most Types of Encryption, Steven Rich and Barton Gellman (for The Washington Post) discuss the NSA’s efforts to develop a quantum computer that would be able to be used to crack encryption.  The NSA is not alone in attempting to develop quantum computers. Such computers would have a power of computing exponentially faster than current binary computing and would be useful to the medical and artificial intelligence fields. For the NSA though, one major benefit will be the ability to read any encrypted data.

In Which Policies Reduce Income Inequality?, Laura Tyson (for Project Syndicate) discusses inequality in the US in comparison with other developed countries, noting that the US has the most unequal distribution of disposable income after taxes and transfer payments.  This is because the US has the least generous and progressive transfer system. While President Obama’s proposals to accelerate growth are good ones they are unlikely to be approved by Congress. More promising might be the possibility of an increase in the minimum wage, which is 23% lower than it was in 1968.

 

Social

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In Popular Voice in the Capitol? It’s the Pope’s, Sheryl Gay Stolberg (for The New York Times) discusses the recent influence the Pope has had on US politics. The Pope’s disparaging comments on unbridled free markets and economies of exclusion and his lack of fuss over abortion and same-sex marriage have been helpful for Democrats and awkward for Republicans. Some Republicans are recognizing the need for their party to pay attention, to be careful not to be the party without a moral core, or they may risk losing even more Catholic voters.

In Major Social Transformation Is a Lot Closer Than You May Realize – How Do We Finish the Job?, Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers (for AlterNet) discuss Bill Moyer’s work on the stage progression of social movements. They point out that Moyer’s work shows why activists should not feel discouraged when their efforts are not immediately successful. The social movement that came to be known as the Occupy Movement was actually Stage Four in Moyer’s system. The movement is currently in Stage Six, “Majority Public Support” – during which its message is heard and accepted by an increasing majority of people, eventually forcing its adoption by power holders.

In Book Bannings On the Rise in US Schools, Says Anti-Censorship Group, David Barnett (for The Guardian) discusses the Kids’ Right to Read Project and its investigation into book banning in US schools and its efforts to curtail the bans.  There has been a 53% increase in book bans in the last year. Such banned books have included works by Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, Isabel Allende, and Rudolfo Anaya, and The Diary of Anne Frank. Not all bannings are reported, so it is difficult to estimate the extent of the problem.