Digest: 8 July 2014




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In Time Magazine Shows Just How Creepy Smart Homes Really Are, James Robinson (for Pando Daily) discusses how the various developments taking place to develop homes into “smart homes” are not calmer safer richer and healthier as Time magazine proposes – rather they are invasive and disturbing. The modern surveillance state is not being forced on us, Robinson says, but is being “sold to us device by device, with the idea that it is for our benefit.” Homes are increasingly able to tell all sorts of details about how we live, our habits, our travel patterns, when we go to bed, what we eat, etc. While the companies that are pushing the “smart” products used in homes as a good thing, at this point it must be considered naive to think the information will not be at some point exploited. This information, gleaned from various home appliances, can be added to that taken from wearable devices (currently being developed), as well as from our online activity. Robinson concludes, “Calmer, safer, richer and healthier? Try, quantified, coddled, surveilled, and monetized.”


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In Welcome to the Everything Boom, or Maybe the Everything Bubble, Neil Irwin (for The New York Times) discusses how nearly every asset class around the world  is expensive by historical standards, differing from previous booms where high valuations were linked to a more limited range of assets. One important question is how long the low returns are going to go on for, it may be that global economic growth will pick up and give reason to the high prices. But what if the high prices are indicative of a bubble, and what happens if a bubble that spreads across so many asset classes bursts? Because that is another very real possibility.

In Taking Systemic Risks Seriously, Simon Johnson (for Project Syndicate) discusses the competing views of financial industry executives and government officials on the question of whether systemic risks remain in the system following post-crisis reforms. Unsurprisingly the financial industry executives see a world of less risk, but thankfully, Johnson argues, regulators don’t necessarily share that confidence. While some reforms have taken place, more can be done such as increasing coordination across national borders. Unfortunately certain lobbies are pushing to undo the work that has taken place to keep a closer eye on the interconnection of different risks, and how they can lead to the systemic failure of global markets.

In The Best of Capitalism is Over for Rich Countries – And For the Poor Ones It Will Be Over By 2060, Paul Mason (for The Guardian) discusses the projections and assumptions of the OECD’s report on its predictions for the world economy until 2060. The OECD, in its central scenario, sees a decrease in growth and an increase in inequality. But these projections are based on notable assumptions including increasing productivity as a result of information technology, and that the necessary migrations will occur to bolster tax bases. This central scenario results in Los Angeles and Detroit looking like Manila just as the negative effects of climate change start to kick in. Higher growth comes with a cost – higher inequality – but this is difficult to correct because the wealth taxes that will have to come in will be hindered by the operation of tax havens. Something needs to change.


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In How the Obama Administration is Keeping Big Coal Alive, Zoë Carpenter (for The Nation) discusses the Obama administration’s stance on coal, specifically its promotion of the extraction of coal to be used abroad, particularly in China. The administration has taken steps to limit consumption of coal in the US, but through the federal coal leasing program the US government subsidizes the coal industry by allowing them to extract coal from public lands for below market prices. The program was designed to provide a steady supply of cheap domestic fuel, now private enterprises are reaping the economic benefit of the coal.  This profit comes at the expense of the taxpayer owners of the land, and will increase the levels of carbon in the atmosphere further exacerbating changes in global climate.  While the Obama administration has failed to act against this process, one US District Court judge has acted by ruling that the failure of the US Forest Service to consider the social cost of carbon emissions in approving an expansion of a coal lease in Colorado was arbitrary and capricious.


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In NSA Experts: ‘National Security Has Become a State Religion’, Sven Becker, Marcel Rosenbach and Jörg Schindler (for Der Spiegel) interview human rights activist and Edward Snowden’s lawyer Jesselyn Radack, and former NSA spy turned whistleblower Thomas Drake. They argue that the NSA’s data collection has little to do with terrorism and more to do with population control and economic espionage, and they discuss the relationship between German and US intelligence in that context.

In Reining in the Drones, The Editorial Board of The New York Times discusses the risk of perpetual war in the event the US continues to use drone warfare in the way it has been - assassinations shrouded in secrecy. The Obama administration has not adequately considered, nor responded to, the grave moral and legal issues involved. As a result a bipartisan panel has released a report finding that US drone use creates a dangerous precedent in the world. More information and transparency is required, but the administration is keeping its drone use secret, preventing credible oversight of the program. The report calls for commission of specialists to determine what long term strategic setbacks we can expect if US policy on drones doesn’t change.

In In NSA-Intercepted Data, Those Not Targeted Far Outnumber the Foreigners Who Are, Barton Gellman, Julie Tate, and Ashkan Soltani (for The Washington Post) discuss how documents provided to the Washington Post by Edward Snowden demonstrate that nine of ten account holders captured in a cache of intercepted conversations were not the alleged intended targets of the surveillance.  The documents are from President Obama’s first term, “a period of exponential growth for the NSA’s domestic collection.” The Obama administration has not addressed the scale of collateral harm to the privacy of US citizens of the NSA’s collection practices. 


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In Google Wants Us To Forget About Its Near-Total Monopoly Over What We Know, Mark Ames (for Pando Daily) discusses Google’s unprecedented position of power to influence the population by being discriminatory in its provision of information.  Because of this, Ames argues, Google welcomes the recent discussion about whether people have the “right to be forgotten”, as allowed by recent EU law. The discussion distracts people from the real problem – that Google’s interests are not the same as those who have no stake in it. Instead, Google’s interests are to scoop up as much data as possible on as much as possible and then control the dissemination of that data. Perhaps it would be wise to prevent this capability from developing much further.