Digest: 8 September 2013

Abstract

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is a man of wide intellect almost irredeemably disillusioned by Iran’s experience of the United States since the US-backed coup to remove the democratically-elected government of Muhammad Mossadec in 1953.  – Coca-Cola has been suggesting aspartame is safe and will help consumers stay thin and healthy, in full page advertisements disguised as public service announcements. – Multinational corporations can play a vital role in developing the technology required to combat climate change through their human, technical, and fiscal resources. – Scientists are looking to release genetically modified insects to mate with female olive flies in Britain causing the offspring to die at the larval stage. – The US has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners as a result of the war on drugs and its mandatory minimum sentencing laws. – President Obama’s Attorney General has approved more media-leak prosecutions than all previous Attorneys General combined. – Another classified NSA program, called Bullrun, makes sure there is not an encryption code in the world that the NSA cannot overcome. – While the US considers whether or not to punish the Assad regime in Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons, it would do well to keep in mind its own history with chemical weapons.  – Understanding how the mind works goes in cycles, the most recent cycle has placed neuroscientists in the winnings, but neuro-skeptics are making a comeback. – 99% of the democracy’s population have been unable to prevent massively rising economic inequality, five possible reasons are given including ideology, low voter turnout, rising real income, lobbying, and distortion of political accountability.

Highlight

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In Who is Ali Khamenei? The Worldview of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Akbar Ganji (for Foreign Affairs) discusses Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and develops a picture of man of wide intellect almost irredeemably disillusioned by Iran’s experience of the United States since the US-backed coup to remove the democratically-elected government of Muhammad Mossadec in 1953.  The article discusses Khamenei’s days as a student, during which he was engaged with secular intellectuals and when he developed a lifelong appreciation of western fiction particularly including works of authors such as De Balzac, Tolstoy, Hugo, and Steinbeck.  The article goes on to discuss how despite Khamenei’s wide ranging study of western culture, he was foremost an Islamic seminarian with particular interest in the application of Islam to societal governance.  Following the Revolution, Khamenei rose through several senior government positions prior to becoming President of the Republic in 1981 and then Supreme Leader in 1989, the position in which he has remained to the present.  The article describes his experience of the United States and his approach to the United States, and ultimately sheds light on the nature of the history of US/Iranian relationship.

Economic

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In Why Coca-Cola’s New Ad Campaign May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Katherine Paul and Ronnie Cummins (for AlterNet) discuss Coca-Cola’s underhanded attempt to shift the blame for obesity. The article points out that Coca-Cola has been placing full page advertisements, disguised as public service announcements, in Atlanta and Chicago markets to suggest, essentially, that aspartame (an artificial sweetener used in Diet Coke) is perfectly safe and will help consumers stay thin and healthy.  The article goes on to discuss how aspartame has been shown in numerous studies over decades to be harmful to health, but that despite this it came to be allowed by the FDA to enter our food supply – apparently thanks to Donald Rumsfeld.

Environmental 

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In How Big Business Can Save the Climate, Jerry Patchell and Roger Hayter (for Foreign Affairs) discuss the vital role that multinational corporations can play in developing the technology required to combat climate change. Despite international political success in agreeing to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in 1987 more recent success has been elusive, particularly in the case of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.  Taking into account the extraordinary levels of human, technical, and fiscal resources that multinationals are able to channel, the article discusses how our approach needs to change to as to provoke greater action at the business level.

In Thousands of Genetically Modified Insects Set for Release, Anthony Gucciardi (for Nation of Change) discusses how a group of scientists are looking to release genetically modified insects to mate with female olive flies in Britain causing the offspring to die at the larval stage.  It is thought that this method will be not only more effective but more environmentally friendly than the use of pesticides.  Critics of the proposal argue that perhaps this is even worse than genetically modified crops – stated concerns pertain particularly the effect of these insects entering the food chain.

Political

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In America’s Overcrowded Prisons: One Nation, Behind Bars, The Economist discusses the Obama administration’s approach to mass incarceration. The article provides statistics such as that while the US has 5% of the world’s population it has 25% of its prisoners. Mass incarceration is largely the result of the so-called war on drugs and its mandatory minimum sentencing laws – it is an $80 billion a year industry. Attorney General Eric Holder has some ideas for reform that should diminish the issue going forward – these include not giving non-violent drug offenders long prison sentences, letting low-risk elderly people out of prison, providing counseling rather than incarceration where appropriate, and removing barriers to ex-convicts readmission to society.

In A Test in Confidence, Steve Coll (for The New Yorker) discusses the Obama Administration’s approach to those who reveal state secrets, particularly the first amendment rights of the press and whether those rights extend to protecting the sources of sensitive or classified information.  President Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, has so far taken a particularly hard line with journalists – he “has approved more media-leak prosecutions than all previous Attorneys General combined.”  Currently at issue is the Fox News reporter James Risen who refused to name his source in the context of his reporting of the CIA’s involvement in feeding faulty nuclear weapons blueprints to Iran.  The article seems to credit Risen with his choice to put himself at the mercy of the US judicial system, and distinguishes him from Snowden and Assange on this basis.  Bradley Manning has just received a thirty-five year prison sentence from a military judge for his role in providing WikiLeaks with classified documents.

In N.S.A. Able to Foil Basic Safeguards of Privacy on Web, Nicole Perlroth, Jeff Larson, and Scott Shane (for The New York Times) discusses another classified NSA program, this one called Bullrun, that uses “supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders, and behind the scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications…”.  Essentially the program is to make sure that there is not an encryption code in the world – private or public, friend or foe – that the NSA cannot overcome. Further that, ideally, the NSA should not even have to overcome these encryption codes, and where possible they have requested or coerced private companies to create back-doors in their systems so as to maintain NSA access.

In Inside America’s Dark History of Chemical Warfare, (for AlterNet) discusses that while the US considers whether or not to punish the Assad regime in Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons, it would do well to keep in mind its own history with chemical weapons.  The article gives a brief summary of this history including: the manufacture of chemicals such as Agent Orange by Monsanto and Dow Chemicals; the extensive use of Agent Orange, Napalm, White Phosphorous, and Sarin in the 1960s and 1970s in Vietnam and Laos; the Department of Defense chemical weapons tests on unsuspecting US sailors and marines; the provision of equipment and materials in the 1980s to Saddam Hussein such as agricultural toxin and crop-duster aircraft for use in his war with Iran; the US failure to act in the event of Saddam Hussein using chemical weapons to kill as many as 5000 Kurds; the export by US companies of technology and materials to create Mustard Gas, Sarin, and pathogens that cause Anthrax and Bubonic Plague; the exposure of US troops in Iraq in the 1990s to chemical explosions; and the recent effects of the widespread use of depleted uranium ammunition by US troops.

Social

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In Mindless: The New Neuro-Skeptics, Adam Gopnik (for The New Yorker) discusses the intellectual interplay between theories of mind that prefer the more logical, mechanical understanding of mental activity, and those that prefer a less mechanical, more intuitive understanding of that activity.  Understanding of how the mind works seems to go in cycles – the most recent cycle has placed neuroscientists in the winnings, showing how they have demonstrated the workings of consciousness in the brain itself, even to the point of undermining our notion of free-choice. But neuro-skeptics are having a comeback, arguing that actually our neural networks are plastic – that “[w]e learn and shape our neurology as much as we inherit it.”

In Why Hasn’t Democracy Slowed Rising Inequality, Adam Bonica, Nolan McCarty, Keith Poole, and Howard Rosenthal (in the American Economic Association’s Journal of Economic Perspectives) discuss the question of how it is that, in a democratic system, 99% of the country’s population have been unable to prevent massively rising economic inequality.  Five possible reasons are given for this failure: ideology, low voter turnout, rising real income, lobbying, and distortion of political accountability.