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TWP: Bacteria Evolved to Save the Planet. Can We?

TWP: Bacteria Evolved to Save the Planet. Can We?

After millions of years of gloriously successful life on Earth, a dangerous new organism arose and spread rapidly across the planet. Mankind? No. Two billion years ago the delinquent organisms were cyanobacteria, the first photosynthetic life forms to give off pure oxygen gas, a chemical deadly to all extant organisms. There may be surprising parallels between the, eventually positive, cyanobacteria impact 2 billion years ago and human impact today. Human beings too are a self-inflicted biosphere disaster in progress, but, in the extremely long-term, we could be just what the planet needs. We have much to learn before we become guardians rather than despoilers of Earth. If our destiny is to safeguard life’s future, it’s time our apprenticeship began.

WP: America’s Prospects Promising

WP: America’s Prospects Promising

Many believe that the American economy has some inherent advantages over its major competitors — a more flexible structure, stronger entrepreneurial traditions and a more demographically vibrant society. Along comes a fascinating new book that says you ain’t seen nothing yet. Peter Zeihan’s “The Accidental Superpower” begins with geography, pointing out that the United States is the world’s largest consumer market for a reason: its rivers.

FA: Executive Disorder

FA: Executive Disorder

Criticism of Obama’s forthcoming executive order has centered around the idea that Obama plans an unconstitutional power grab, but his action is within the bounds of the law because it focuses on changes to the administration’s enforcement priorities. That doesn’t mean that Obama’s executive order deserves no criticism – it will do nothing for the unaccompanied minors and families whose desperate flight to the United States last summer may have finally pushed the White House to act.

NYT: Elite Campus Arts Race

NYT: Elite Campus Arts Race

Elite campuses across the country have emerged from the recession riding a multibillion-dollar wave of architecturally ambitious arts facilities, even as community arts programs struggle against public indifference. The current tide of building developed over years, as universities reassert the essential value of the arts to a well-rounded education, aided by deep-pocket alumni willing to underwrite elaborate new facilities.

BI: Drones and Aerial Surveillance

BI: Drones and Aerial Surveillance

The campaigns mounted by privacy advocates oftentimes make a compelling case about the threat of pervasive surveillance, but the legislation is rarely tailored in such a way to prevent the harm that advocates fear. In fact, the new laws are focused on the technology (drones) not the harm (pervasive surveillance) and have been aimed at restricting the government’s use of drone technology, while allowing the government to conduct identical surveillance when not using drone technology. This absurd anachronism is intentional.

NYT: Climate Accord Not Groundbreaking

NYT: Climate Accord Not Groundbreaking

For all the pronouncements about the United States and China reaching a historic climate pact, the agreement they announced Wednesday does not signal a seismic shift in policies by either nation, experts said. The deal is important for what it shows the rest of the world, particularly other large carbon emitters like India and Russia, in advance of a meeting in Paris next year to negotiate a new climate treaty.

AJ: Palestinians Remind World of Their Own Wall

AJ: Palestinians Remind World of Their Own Wall

Palestinian youth have dug a hole in Israel’s separation wall with the Palestinian territories, as a symbolic gesture to mark 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Palestinians refer to the current wall separating the West Bank from Israel as the “apartheid wall”. The International Committee of the Red Cross stated that the Israeli barrier “causes serious humanitarian and legal problems” and goes “far beyond what is permissible for an occupying power”.

RS: JP Morgan Chase’s Worst Nightmare

RS: JP Morgan Chase’s Worst Nightmare

Fleischmann is the central witness in one of the biggest cases of white-collar crime in American history, possessing secrets that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon late last year paid $9 billion (not $13 billion as regularly reported) to keep the public from hearing. Back in 2006, as a deal manager at the gigantic bank, Fleischmann first witnessed, then tried to stop, what she describes as “massive criminal securities fraud” in the bank’s mortgage operations. This past year she watched as Holder’s Justice Department struck a series of historic settlement deals with Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America. The root bargain in these deals was cash for secrecy. “I could be sued into bankruptcy,” she says. “I could lose my license to practice law. I could lose everything. But if we don’t start speaking up, then this really is all we’re going to get: the biggest financial cover-up in history.”

PS: Years of Living Tactically

PS: Years of Living Tactically

We have been living in an illusion. For years, the world has believed that the transition from a unipolar to a multipolar order would be peaceful, orderly, and steady, with new players like China, Brazil, and Turkey adapting to the existing multilateral framework in a natural, harmonious way. How wrong we were. The reason for this failure is simple: the West has allowed short-term tactical concerns to impede the development of a long-term strategic vision.

TD: Do Nothing, Repeat

TD: Do Nothing, Repeat

The crisis in our political system is less about party than about horizon. Somehow, we seem to have lost the capacity for long-range planning and execution—at a time when, arguably, foresight and patience are more essential than ever before. Iit is hard to imagine how our system can possibly implement policies that would be effective in the long run—or how, if we managed to take the right course, we could possibly stick to it.

NYT: Starkest Warning Yet

NYT: Starkest Warning Yet

The gathering risks of climate change are so profound that they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger if greenhouse emissions continue at a runaway pace, according to a major new United Nations report. In the starkest language the IPCC has ever used, the expert panel made clear how far society remains from having any serious policy to limit global warming.

BBC: Judges For Sale?

BBC: Judges For Sale?

Citizen’s United is back in America’s courtrooms. But, this time, the famous US Supreme Court case isn’t facing scrutiny, it’s deciding who’s sitting on the bench in the first place. States pick their judges in a variety of ways. In states where elections are taking place, they are starting to remind voters more of congressional elections, with the same money and harsh rhetoric.

WP: Justice for Snowden

WP: Justice for Snowden

It is time for President Obama to offer clemency to Edward Snowden, the courageous U.S. citizen who revealed the Orwellian reach of the National Security Agency’s sweeping surveillance of Americans. His actions may have broken the law, but his act, as the New York Times editorialized, did the nation “a great service.”

DS: Freedom vs Stability

DS: Freedom vs Stability

There are many reasons to be gratified by the end of a dictatorship. It means that a criminal is no longer in a position of power, and there’s the prospect that democracy could take root in its stead. Some people also believe that anything is better than despotism. But the last decade has shown that there is something worse than dictatorship, worse than the absence of freedom, worse than oppression: civil war and chaos.

HP: Obama Urged to Release Torture Report

HP: Obama Urged to Release Torture Report

Twelve Nobel Peace Prize winners penned an open letter to President Barack Obama urging his administration to release a U.S. Senate report on the CIA’s use of torture. The laureates spoke out sharply against any use of torture, but said that the U.S.’ tactics were particularly troubling. Advocates have been urging the White House for months to no avail to make the report public.

AJA: ISIL’s New Recruits

AJA: ISIL’s New Recruits

United States-led airstrikes in Syria have killed nearly 500 ISIL fighters since attacks were launched last month. While coalition forces continue to shell ISIL targets, it appears that the armed group is quickly replenishing its ranks. In August – during the lead-up to U.S.-led strikes – the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 6,000 new recruits had joined ISIL in July alone.

NYT: Nation’s Confidence Ebbs

NYT: Nation’s Confidence Ebbs

In taking office during two overseas wars and the Great Recession, President Obama set out to restore society’s frayed faith in its public institutions, saying that the question was not whether government was too big or small, “but whether it works.” Six years later, Americans seem more dubious than ever that it really does.

WP: Warren’s Powerful Case

WP: Warren’s Powerful Case

Elizabeth Warren is not running for president apparently because everyone assumes the nomination is Clinton’s. But everyone was making that same assumption eight years ago, and we know what happened. If the choice is between inspiration and inevitability, Warren may be forced to change her plans.

TG: The Truth About Evil

TG: The Truth About Evil

Liberal meliorists like to think that human life contains many things that are bad, some of which may never be entirely eliminated; but there is nothing that is intrinsically destructive or malevolent in human beings themselves – nothing, in other words, that corresponds to a traditional idea of evil. But another view is possible, and one that need make no call on theology. What has been described as evil in the past can be understood as a natural tendency to animosity and destruction, co-existing in human beings alongside tendencies to sympathy and cooperation.

HP: Homer Describing Big Oil

HP: Homer Describing Big Oil

The dangers of climate change have grown and become palpable in myriad ways but nations have made little progress. In fact, having put the car in reverse, they are accelerating in the wrong direction. The planet has a big problem. I’m here to argue that divestment from fossil fuel companies is an important strategy for fiduciaries of all types to pursue. Divestment by any group, but particularly by thought leaders such as those responsible for public pension funds, helps to stigmatize the oil, gas and coal giants as repugnant social pariahs and rogue political forces bent on profit at whatever cost to the planet and its people.

MIT: Conflict Free Stability Possible?

MIT: Conflict Free Stability Possible?

The study of modern history is currently undergoing a revolution. There was a time when historians focused largely on events as the be all and end all of history. But in recent years, there has been a growing understanding that a complex network of links, alliances, trade agreements and so on play a hugely important role in creating an environment in which conflict (or peace) can spread. An interesting open question is whether certain kinds of networks exist that are stable against the outbreak of war.

RE: Unconstitutional Living Wage Law?

RE: Unconstitutional Living Wage Law?

Industry trade groups are now challenging Seattle’s new minimum wage law as unconstitutional. They claim the city’s $15 an hour rate violates the 14th Amendment. Passed just after the Civil War to ensure equal rights for the newly freed slaves, that amendment says no state may “deny to any person . . . the equal protection of the laws.” According to the industry lawsuit, the minimum wage law violates this Equal Protection Clause because it phases in the higher wage at a different schedule for franchised companies than for small local businesses.

BBC: A Republican Senate?

BBC: A Republican Senate?

It’s simple electoral maths that the Republican Party has a good chance to control a majority in the US Senate after November’s mid-term elections. As most experts predict conservatives will easily maintain their edge in the House of Representatives, the “battle for the Senate” has dominated discussion. As election day draws near, however, a quiet debate is simmering over what Republican control of Congress actually would mean.

PS: Selfishness for All?

PS: Selfishness for All?

Ban’s message was simple: Beyond the long-term shared benefits of such action, countries and businesses would benefit in the short term. There are no losers in the fight to mitigate climate change and its consequences and for some the “win-win” character of climate action seems finally to be sinking in. Today’s carbon-intensive businesses may see far more risk than opportunity in climate action. But this view is shortsighted from a financial point of view and neglects the impact of public opinion.

WWF: Half of Global Wildlife Lost

WWF: Half of Global Wildlife Lost

Between 1970 and 2010 populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish around the globe dropped 52 percent, says the 2014 Living Planet Report released today by World Wildlife Fund. This biodiversity loss occurs disproportionately in low-income countries—and correlates with the increasing resource use of high-income countries. The report’s data also point to other warning signs about the overall health of the planet.

AJ: Trade Agreements Kept Secret

AJ: Trade Agreements Kept Secret

In August 2007, then–presidential candidate Barack Obama vowed that, if elected, he would “immediately” amend NAFTA. Six years later, with NAFTA still untouched, Obama faced the decision to appoint the chief U.S. negotiators for the two largest trade agreements in history. And he picked Wall Street bankers for the job. While labor organizations worry about losing leverage, the financial industry seems poised to entrench its influence.

WP: Details About Drones

WP: Details About Drones

The White House is preparing a directive that would require federal agencies to publicly disclose for the first time where they fly drones in the United States and what they do with the torrents of data collected from aerial surveillance. Until now, the armed forces and federal law enforcement agencies have been reflexively secretive about drone flights and even less forthcoming about how often they use the aircraft to conduct domestic surveillance.

RE: Holder Another Brick in the Wall

RE: Holder Another Brick in the Wall

Considered in its totality, Holder’s time as attorney general maintained the Bush administration’s legal philosophy on the largest issues, and in a style that Bush’s attorneys general must have admired. Trained to detect and amplify Washington’s marginal political differences, the press sometimes overlooks the obvious continuity of the permanent government.

FA: Truth About Taxes

FA: Truth About Taxes

Governments worldwide increasingly share the sentiment: perhaps, like the pinched middle classes, they feel that corporations are taking too much of the profits for themselves. And so, at a June 2012 summit, G-20 leaders resolved to get multinational corporations to pay more taxes. They asked another international organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, to investigate and suggest what might be done.

TN: Student Debt Sentence

TN: Student Debt Sentence

Public funds in the form of federal student loans has been called the “lifeblood” of the for-profit system, providing on average 86 percent of revenues. Such schools now enroll around 10 percent of America’s college students, but take in more than a quarter of all federal financial aid—as much as $33 billion in a single year. By some estimates it would cost less than half that amount to directly fund free higher education at all currently existing two- and four-year public colleges.

WP: Congress Rarely Works Full Week

WP: Congress Rarely Works Full Week

Of the 13,000-plus days since Jan. 1, 1978, both chambers of Congress have been in session at the same time for about 4,700 of them — about a third of the total time and a little fewer than half of all weekdays. The Senate has worked more than the House, having been in session about 42 percent of the time to the House’s 39 percent. A look at the the past 37 years of Congressional activity reveals that your likely stereotypes about the amount of time Congress spends doing the people’s work is probably about right.

BL: Germany’s Expensive Success

BL: Germany’s Expensive Success

The Energiewende will go on despite its obvious setbacks. There are countries in Europe that already generate more than half of their electricity from renewable sources, such as Sweden, and others that are getting there, such as Austria, and the continent’s biggest economy is trying hard to catch up. The German government’s determination to experiment, and citizens’ continued willingness to pay for these experiments if they lead to a cleaner future, carry important lessons for the U.S. and other countries where politicians are afraid of the kind of upheavals that Germany has faced.

RE: 25% of Americans Wish To Secede

RE: 25% of Americans Wish To Secede

For the past few weeks, as Scotland debated the wisdom of independence, Reuters has been asking Americans how they would feel about declaring independence today, not from the United Kingdom, but from the mother country they left England to create. Almost a quarter of those surveyed said they were strongly or provisionally inclined to leave the United States, and take their states with them. The sense of aggrievement is comprehensive, bipartisan, somewhat incoherent, but deeply felt. This should be more than disconcerting; it’s a situation that could get dangerous.

TG: Google Wants To Control Our Lives

TG: Google Wants To Control Our Lives

Page and Brin were clear from the outset: their mission was “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. The crucial thing about that sentence is that there’s no reference to the internet. In some sense, every person, every object, every thought in every brain, everything anyone ever does, is information. Page and Brin told us what Google was up to. We just didn’t take them literally enough.

HRW: Liberty to Monitor All

HRW: Liberty to Monitor All

How large-scale US surveillance is harming journalism, law, and American democracy. The 120-page report documents how national security journalists and lawyers are adopting elaborate steps or otherwise modifying their practices to keep communications, sources, and other confidential information secure in light of revelations of unprecedented US government surveillance of electronic communications and transactions.

TG: American Fear Mongering Machine

TG: American Fear Mongering Machine

Did you know that the US government’s counterterrorism chief Matthew Olson said that “there’s no credible information” that ISIS is planning an attack on America and that there’s “no indication at this point of a cell of foreign fighters operating in the United States”? Probably not, because as the nation barrels towards yet another war in the Middle East and President Obama addresses the nation on the “offensive phase” of his military plan, mainstream media pundits and the usual uber-hawk politicians are busy trying to out-hyperbole each other over the threat ISIS poses to Americans. Thanks to this wall-to-wall fear mongering, a once war-weary public is now terrified. The administration openly admits it has no idea how long it will take, only that it won’t be quick. “It may take a year, it may take two years, it may take three years,” John Kerry said. He didn’t add, “it might take another 13”, but he might as well have.

MIT: Tech Fix For Medicine?

MIT: Tech Fix For Medicine?

After decades as a technological laggard, medicine has entered its data age. Mobile technologies, sensors, genome sequencing, and advances in analytic software now make it possible to capture vast amounts of information about our individual makeup and the environment around us. The sum of this information could transform medicine.

SI: Xbox Controller Controls Giant Laser Cannon

SI: Xbox Controller Controls Giant Laser Cannon

Meet one of the U.S. Army’s newest toys: the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator. It’s “basically a high-energy laser mounted on top of a big truck,” says Wired. It has an unusual feature, though: the laser cannon is controlled with an Xbox video game controller. There’s increasingly little distance between war games and actual war, in which drone pilots describe their jobs as “a lot like playing a video game.” ​

AJA: Age of Rentier Capitalism

AJA: Age of Rentier Capitalism

It is well known that globalization has put strong downward pressure on wages and benefits of workers in wealthy countries, as companies have offshored and outsourced labor to lower-wage locations and justified wage cuts to try to stay competitive. But politicians and economists have yet to come to terms with the fact that in the rich world the income distribution system itself has broken down irretrievably.

AJA: Emotion Driven Economy

AJA: Emotion Driven Economy

Economic predictions depend on figuring out what generates economic activity. Since the turn of the 20th century, economists have struggled to grasp what drives various parts of the economy, from consumer goods to commodities to housing. Recent research suggests financial markets and economic growth are supported mainly by animal spirits, not rational calculation

TG: Centre for the Study of Existential Risk

TG: Centre for the Study of Existential Risk

The four founders of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, cosmologist Martin Rees, Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, economic theorist Sir Partha Desgupta and philosopher Huw Price, are in the business of “horizon scanning” – identifying low-probability-but-high-consequence events – and are concerned mainly with risks we have created ourselves – the consequences of being too clever for our own good. One prominent risk is that artificial intelligence (AI) will outcompete our own for predominance, ultimately allowing AI to relate to humans much as humans currently do to chimpanzees. There is also the risk of the deliberate or accidental release of a virus with a modified genome, the adoption of stratospheric aerosol geo-engineering, and the use of 3-D printers to create military-grade weapons.

FA: America in Decay

FA: America in Decay

The creation of the U.S. Forest Service at the turn of the twentieth century was the premier example of American state building during the Progressive Era, the prototype of a new model of merit-based bureaucracy. Today, however, many regard the Forest Service as a highly dysfunctional bureaucracy performing an outmoded mission with the wrong tools. The story of the U.S. Forest Service is not an isolated case but representative of a broader trend of political decay.

NG: Emissions Already Locked In

NG: Emissions Already Locked In

The world’s existing power plants are on track to pour more than 300 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and current monitoring standards often fail to take these long-term emissions into account, according to new research from scientists at UC Irvine and Princeton University. The paper, published Tuesday in the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters, is the first to estimate the lifetime carbon emissions of power plants globally over multiple years.

PS: Trouble with Universal Education

PS: Trouble with Universal Education

The world is gearing up to establish a new set of goals for the next 15 years. Given limited resources, policymakers and international organizations must ask themselves: Where can we do the most good? Maximizing the impact of scarce resources on the lives of the world’s poorest people demands tough choices. In an ideal world, universal, high-quality education at all levels would be worth pursuing. But, amid competing demands for basic necessities like health care and potable water, narrower, more cost-effective education targets are essential.

RE: Fear Not German Hegemony

RE: Fear Not German Hegemony

Angela Merkel is the most important leader in Europe. She tries to duck it by exhibiting a modest demeanor, presenting no charisma, no grand pronouncements, no apparent ambition to stamp her views on history. Germany’s popular, publicly modest chancellor is the de facto leader of a grouping that famously had no number to call when the U.S. president needed to talk to his closest allies. Now it does: it’s Angela Merkel’s mobile phone. She carries much on her back – luckily for the rest of us.

WP: The Rise of Putinism

WP: The Rise of Putinism

When the Cold War ended, Hungary occupied a special place in the story of the revolutions of 1989. It was one of the first countries in the Soviet orbit to abandon communism and embrace liberal democracy. Today it is again a trendsetter, becoming the first European country to denounce and distance itself from liberal democracy. It is adopting a new system and set of values that are best exemplified by Vladimir Putin’s Russia but are finding echoes in other countries as well.

PS: Fragmentation of Bretton Woods

PS: Fragmentation of Bretton Woods

The world has changed considerably since political leaders from the 44 Allied countries met in 1944 in Bretton Woods to create the institutional framework for the post-World War II economic and monetary order. What has not changed in the last 70 years is the need for strong multilateral institutions. Yet national political support for the Bretton Woods institutions seems to have reached an all-time low, undermining the global economy’s ability to meet its potential and contributing to geopolitical insecurity.

MIT: Weaknesses of Big Data

MIT: Weaknesses of Big Data

Important information relating to economics, health and other things can be extracted from big data given the right tools. But exactly how this should be done accurately and reliably is still the subject of significant debate. Government agencies, companies and almost anyone willing to play with the numbers will be able to extract significant value from search query data in future. But considerable care is needed. Many an economic hangover has been caused by over-indulgence in unreliable data.

W: Liking Everything on Facebook

W: Liking Everything on Facebook

The like and the favorite are the new metrics of success—very literally. Not only are they ego-feeders for the stuff we put online as individuals, but advertisers track their campaigns on Facebook by how often they are liked. Liking is an economic act. I like everything. Or at least I did, for 48 hours. Literally everything Facebook sent my way, I liked—even if I hated it. I decided to embark on a campaign of conscious liking, to see how it would affect what Facebook showed me. My News Feed took on an entirely new character in a surprisingly short amount of time. After checking in and liking a bunch of stuff over the course of an hour, there were no human beings in my feed anymore. It became about brands and messaging, rather than humans with messages…

AJ: School Nutrition Association

AJ: School Nutrition Association

A bitter fight erupted when the School Nutrition Association decided to oppose nutrition improvements to federally subsidized school meals. Michelle Obama has made the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 one of her top causes. The result is an unfortunate standoff between the White House and the SNA’s current leadership. Why did the SNA reverse its earlier position supporting healthier school meals?

MJ: Six Year Itch Doom for Obama?

MJ: Six Year Itch Doom for Obama?

The theory of the six-year itch is well-known phenomenon: American presidents suffer all too often during their second terms from an onslaught of scandals that hobble their ability to act. if you accept the general proposition that scandals tend to pile up over time, that means you’re likely to have a fairly impotent president by year six. And maybe that means a single six-year term would be for the best. The problem with this is that there’s not much evidence for it.

FA: New World Order

FA: New World Order

Recent advances in technology have created an increasingly unified global marketplace for labor and capital. Some have argued that the current era of rapid technological progress serves labor, and some have argued that it serves capital. The real winners of the future will not be the providers of cheap labor or the owners of ordinary capital, both of whom will be increasingly squeezed by automation. Fortune will instead favor a third group: those who can innovate and create new products, services, and business models.

DS: Danger to Israel Comes from Within

DS: Danger to Israel Comes from Within

Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, but left behind death and destruction. Israeli sociologist Eva Illouz tells SPIEGEL that her country is gripped by fear and is becoming increasingly suspicious of democracy. Eva Illouz was born in Morocco and grew up in Sarcelles, near Paris. She is a professor of sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She researches the relationship between emotions, economy and communication and has written several books including “Why Love Hurts: A Sociological Explanation,” which was published in English last year.

NYT: What Science Says About Marijuana

NYT: What Science Says About Marijuana

Marijuana is far less harmful to human health than most other banned drugs and is less dangerous than the highly addictive but perfectly legal substances known as alcohol and tobacco. That doesn’t mean marijuana is harmless; but, on balance, its downsides are not reasons to impose criminal penalties on its possession, particularly not in a society that permits nicotine use and celebrates drinking. Marijuana’s negative health effects are arguments for the same strong regulation that has been effective in curbing abuse of legal substances.

MJ: General Mills and Climate Change

MJ: General Mills and Climate Change

A few months ago, the international food manufacturing giant General Mills was branded a “clear laggard” by climate activists for not doing enough to cut its carbon footprint. Today, Oxfam International is claiming big victory: General Mills has released a new set of climate policies that Oxfam says makes it “the first major food and beverage company to promise to implement long-term science-based targets to cut emissions.”

BI: Harmonization of US Security and Climate Goals

BI: Harmonization of US Security and Climate Goals

Climate change poses a significant risk to national security. The U.S. has multiple tools at its disposal to mitigate the impacts of energy supply disruptions, help countries enhance their own energy security and mitigate global climate change. We will need to use all the tools in our tool kit to meet the energy and security challenges we face today. Congress can support the State Department’s role in energy diplomacy, expand our technical assistance programs, and consider energy exports in advancing energy security and promoting lower carbon fuels.

CIGI: US Losing Friends It Needs Most

CIGI: US Losing Friends It Needs Most

Foreign policy is like gardening, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, more than once remarked. And it begins, he pointed out, by making sure that relations with America’s neighbors, key allies, and friends remain regularly and well-tended. It is an axiom of foreign policy that the Obama administration is ignoring to its own detriment. U.S. relations with Germany – Europe’s economic and political juggernaut – have sunk to an all-time low. The health of U.S. relations with key allies is not much better across the Pacific.

NYT: Making Government Fail Less

NYT: Making Government Fail Less

Most Americans don’t think of their government as particularly successful. Some of this mistrust reflects a healthy skepticism that Americans have always had toward centralized authority. But much of the mistrust really does reflect the federal government’s frequent failures. And yet there is some good news in this area, too – a flowering of experiments to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

FA: The State of the State

FA: The State of the State

In today’s established and emerging democracies, few people regard government as precious. This cynicism has become commonplace and yet it is actually rather odd. It assumes that the public sector will remain immune from the technological advances and forces of globalization that have ripped apart the private sector. It also ignores the lessons of history: government has changed dramatically over the past few centuries, usually because committed people possessed by big ideas have worked hard to change it.

BI: Government Failures

BI: Government Failures

In this research paper, Paul C. Light writes that the “first step in preventing future failures is to find a reasonable set of past failures that might yield lessons for repair.” To meet this goal, Light asks four key questions about past federal government failures: (1) where did government fail, (2) why did government fail, (3) who caused the failures, and (4) what can be done to fix the underlying problems?

TA: Why Young Chinese Know More About Money

TA: Why Young Chinese Know More About Money

In a new report comparing financial literacy skills among 15-year-olds in 18 countries, U.S. students scored in the middle of the pack on basic questions about savings, bank accounts and credit/debit cards, and weighing risks and rewards in deciding how to spend their dollars. The ranking of U.S. students in the new assessment is consistent with the nation’s stagnant performance on the most recent PISA for math and reading—two skills that track closely with financial literacy.

PD: Google’s Monopoly Over What We Know

PD: Google’s Monopoly Over What We Know

Google’s monopoly power to discriminate information, to decide what we know and what we won’t know, and how accessible or inaccessible that information is, is the real relevant story to the EU controversy over the right to be forgotten. This sort of power goes well beyond abstract principles about freedom of speech, and into the mundane, existential power over businesses, industries, jobs, and the political economy.

PS: Taking Systemic Risk Seriously

PS: Taking Systemic Risk Seriously

There are two leading views about the world’s financial system. The first, heard mostly from executives at leading global banks and their allies, is that the system is safer than it has ever been. According to this view, the events that led up to the global financial crisis that erupted in 2008 cannot happen again; the reform process has succeeded. By contrast, a growing group of current and former officials continues to express concern about current and potential future risks in the United States, Europe, and globally.

TG: Best of Capitalism Over

TG: Best of Capitalism Over

The OECD has a clear message for the world: for the rich countries, the best of capitalism is over. For the poor ones – now experiencing the glitter and haze of industrialisation – it will be over by 2060. If you want higher growth, says the OECD, you must accept higher inequality. And vice versa.

PM: Myth of US Golden Age

PM: Myth of US Golden Age

The Obamians seem bewildered that the country is not more thankful to its government for having prevented another Great Depression. They saved the banks, and in doing so, they saved the economy from a once-in-a-hundred-year storm. And they proudly point out that all the money given to the financial sector has been more than repaid. But in making such claims, they ignore some critical realities.

BBC: Global Refugee Crisis

BBC: Global Refugee Crisis

The number of people living as refugees from war or persecution exceeded 50 million in 2013, for the first time since World War Two, the UN says. Large numbers of refugees and IDPs fleeing to new areas inevitably put a strain on resources, and can even destabilise a host country and the burden of caring for refugees is increasingly falling on the countries with the least resources.

DS: Syria Another Somalia

DS: Syria Another Somalia

Interview with UN Peace Envoy Brahimi: ‘Syria Will Become Another Somalia’ – For almost two years, Lakhdar Brahimi sought to bring peace to Syria. But in May, the United Nations special envoy stepped down. He speaks with SPIEGEL about the stubbornness of Syrian President Assad, the mistakes of the West and the dangers presented by Islamic radicals.

WP: Pacific Marine Sanctuary

WP: Pacific Marine Sanctuary

President Obama on Tuesday will announce his intent to make a broad swath of the central Pacific Ocean off-limits to fishing, energy exploration and other activities. The proposal, slated to go into effect later this year after a comment period, could create the world’s largest marine sanctuary and double the area of ocean globally that is fully protected. The announcement is part of a broader push on maritime issues by an administration that has generally favored other environmental priorities. On Capitol Hill, some Republicans have sought to limit the administration’s ability to influence offshore activities, viewing it as another attempt by the president to test the limits of White House power.

FA: Powering the Pentagon

FA: Powering the Pentagon

The benefits of the Pentagon’s drive for energy efficiency go well beyond improving the U.S military’s energy security and lowering its costs. Through coordination and technology transfers with the private sector, the effort to create a more energy-efficient and secure fighting force could also stimulate innovation beyond the military and help reduce the carbon footprint of many businesses.

TG: Student Loans Executive Order

TG: Student Loans Executive Order

In another attempt to stem the economic threat of high student debt and win favor for his party before November’s election, President Obama on Monday signed an executive order that will limit federal student loan payments for 5 million more people.

TG: UK’s First Secret Court

TG: UK’s First Secret Court

A major terrorism trial is set to be held entirely in secret for the first time in British legal history in an unprecedented departure from the principles of open justice. The unnamed defendants were arrested in a high-profile police operation last year and have been charged with serious terrorism offences.

BI: Obama’s Clean Power Plan

BI: Obama’s Clean Power Plan

Yesterday saw the release of the most important element of the Obama administration’s climate agenda. To some observers, this looks like the culmination of a long struggle to transform America’s rhetoric about the danger of climate change into action. At most, it is the end of the beginning. A quick look at the politics and the law at issue should explain why.

AN: Obama Enemy of Press Freedom

AN: Obama Enemy of Press Freedom

While Attorney General Eric Holder recently pledged that under his watch, journalists will not go to jail, the administration has continued to use the judicial system to harass journalists into revealing their sources. Journalists and press freedom advocates say the administration’s war on journalists has chilled national security reporting, with potential sources afraid to speak to reporters for fear of being prosecuted.

NYT: Judging Spinoza

NYT: Judging Spinoza

No less an eminence than David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, publicly argued for “amending the injustice” done to the philosopher, insisting that the 17th-century rabbis had no authority “to exclude the immortal Spinoza from the community of Israel for all time.” The ban on Spinoza was never rescinded. One pressing question concerns the wisdom and efficacy of enforcing orthodoxy, or conformity in the matter of ideas in religious communities. Spinoza believed that he had, through metaphysical inquiry, discovered important truths about God, nature and human beings, truths that led to principles of great consequence for our happiness and our emotional and physical flourishing. By enforcing conformity of belief and punishing deviations from dogma, religious authorities risk depriving the devoted of the possibility of achieving in religion that which they most urgently seek.

AJ: The Information Wars

AJ: The Information Wars

The Greek playwright Aeschylus wrote that in wartime “truth” is the first casualty, an observation that was later repeated by Samuel Johnson, Rudyard Kipling, and isolationist US Senator Hiram Johnson in 1917 as the United States entered World War I. Modern governments do indeed like to control information, partly to shape the narrative of their activities to influence world opinion, but mostly for the domestic audience to generate popular support for policies that might otherwise prove unsustainable.

NYT: Europe’s Secret Success

NYT: Europe’s Secret Success

Europe’s financial and macroeconomic woes have overshadowed its remarkable, unheralded longer-term success in an area in which it used to lag: job creation. The truth is that European-style welfare states have proved more resilient, more successful at job creation, than is allowed for in America’s prevailing economic philosophy.

TN: US Race Segregation Getting Worse

TN: US Race Segregation Getting Worse

Progress is an essential tenet of America’s civic religion. But as with any religion, when faith is pitted against experience, faith generally wins. And at that point, optimism begins to look suspiciously like delusion. If the civil rights movement had been about getting black faces in new and high places, its work would now be done. But it wasn’t. It was about equality. And the problem is not that we still have a great deal of progress to be made or that progress is too slow—it’s that we are regressing. In many areas, America is becoming more separate and less equal.

TG: Children Mental Health Crisis

TG: Children Mental Health Crisis

In 2004, the first academic studies of trends in child and adolescent mental health began to report a worrying deterioration. The origins of this crisis – and it is a crisis – do not lie in massive overuse of the web, but elsewhere. But if things looked worrying in 2004, they look a darn sight worse today, 10 years later.

NYT: Medicated Kids

NYT: Medicated Kids

More than 10,000 American toddlers 2 or 3 years old are being medicated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder outside established pediatric guidelines, according to data presented on Friday by an official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

BR: US Climate Assessment

BR: US Climate Assessment

The recently released third National Climate Assessment (NCA) is a collaborative effort by federal agencies and hundreds of experts, that focuses on the science of climate change impacts in the United States that are happening now, and those that are expected throughout this century.

NYT: Peril of Knowledge

NYT: Peril of Knowledge

Thanks to advances in technology, we may soon revisit a question raised four centuries ago: Are there things we should try not to know? That’s because the collection of data is increasing, in both scale and type, at a phenomenal rate.

AJA: 21st Century Capitalism Can’t Last

AJA: 21st Century Capitalism Can’t Last

Pitketty’s book presents a simple thesis: Unchecked, capitalism’s natural dynamics lead to an unequal concentration of wealth. This trend is increasing at a rapid rate; absent a wealth-destroying catastrophe such as war or depression or powerful new egalitarian political movements, we can expect that to continue. We’ve stumbled into another Gilded Age. Which leads to the obvious question: What can be done?

FA: Thomas Piketty

FA: Thomas Piketty

“Every now and then, the field of economics produces an important book; this is one of them,” writes Tyler Cowen in his Foreign Affairs review of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-first Century. Justin Vogt, deputy managing editor of Foreign Affairs, recently sat down with Piketty to discuss inequality and his controversial policy proposals.

SC: One Thing to Remember on Earth Day

SC: One Thing to Remember on Earth Day

We cannot succeed if we define ourselves solely by the things that we’re against. We must be just as effective, creative, and tenacious at identifying and establishing the positive solutions we do want to see. If we don’t articulate a vision for a prosperous society powered by clean energy, then the only “optimistic” perspective is to deny reality and bury one’s head in the sand. And that’s a dangerous thing to do when the seas are rising. So here’s what I want everyone to remember this Earth Day: The world is a wonderful place. In just 90 minutes, enough sunlight strikes this planet to provide our planet’s entire energy needs for one year. The contiguous United States has enough potential wind energy to provide all of our nation’s electricity — nine times over. Renewable energy has become economically competitive faster than anyone imagined just a few years ago — in many places it is already beating all fossil fuels and nuclear power on price alone. Got it? Now, make like Muir and spread the word!

AJA: Water Privatization Despite Risks

AJA: Water Privatization Despite Risks

Humans can survive weeks without food, but only days or hours without water. Water is life. So what happens when private companies control the spigot? Evidence from water privatization projects around the world paints a pretty clear picture: Skyrocketing water prices, unsafe supply, failing infrastructure. These problems fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable among us. This is why public institutions, not private corporations, must lead the development of water systems and delivery.

AJA: Obama’s Clemency Power Unused

AJA: Obama’s Clemency Power Unused

The root of extreme sentencing is legislative: Eighty-three percent of those serving life without parole for a nonviolent offense as of 2012 received a mandatory minimum sentence prescribed by law. Judges protest the harsh sentences even as they hand them down. President Barack Obama, the inheritor of a war on drugs created by his predecessors, has criticized excessive sentences. But he has done little to undo the damage.

PS: The Oligarchy Fallacy

PS: The Oligarchy Fallacy

The anti-oligarchy argument claim is that the rich have too much money, which they use to elect politicians who will enact laws that favor their interests. But it seems better to argue about the best policies to improve income distribution efficiently, and to point out which politicians support them. “Yes” to the EITC and pre-school education; “no” to subsidies for oil, agriculture, and mortgage debt.

FPIF: America’s Homegrown Terror

FPIF: America’s Homegrown Terror

The greatest dangers for the United States do not lurk in terrorist cells in the mountains surrounding Kandahar that are planning on assaults on American targets. Rather, our vulnerabilities are homegrown. The United States currently lacks safety protocols and effective inspection regimes for the dangerous materials it has amassed over the last 60 years. Tragically we are cutting back on infrastructure investment at a time we should be increasing it dramatically.

DS: Central Banks’ Eroding Power

DS: Central Banks’ Eroding Power

Since the financial crisis, central banks have slashed interest rates, purchased vast quantities of sovereign bonds and bailed out banks. Now, though, their influence appears to be on the wane with measures producing paltry results. Do they still have control? Governments must exert tighter control over banks and financial institutions, but monetary policy experts also have a role to play. They shouldn’t just focus on the economy, but also pay attention to the financial cycle.

AN: US Warp Speed Decline

AN: US Warp Speed Decline

If America needed a reminder that it is fast becoming a second-rate nation, and that every economic policy of the Republican Party is wrongheaded, it got one this week with the release of the Social Progress Index (SPI). America’s rapid descent into impoverished nation status is the inevitable result of unchecked corporate capitalism. By every measure, we look like a broken banana republic. In The World As It Is, Chris Hedges writes, “Our anemic democracy will be replaced with a robust national police state. The elite will withdraw into heavily guarded gated communities where they will have access to security, goods, and services that cannot be afforded by the rest of us. Tens of millions of people, brutally controlled, will live in perpetual poverty.”

BI: McCutcheon Decision Worse Than It Looks

BI: McCutcheon Decision Worse Than It Looks

The Supreme Court’s McCutcheon is more radical than modest, increasing the political leverage of the wealthy few and moving us further toward an unregulated political marketplace and away from the democratic republic envisioned by the framers.

WP: US Drug War

WP: US Drug War

The grieving mother accomplished what would have been inconceivable a few short years ago, much less back when the nation launched its war on drugs: She helped pass a bill, signed by a Republican governor, that lets people get away with using drugs for the sake of saving lives.

TG: Reforming the NSA

TG: Reforming the NSA

Ten months after Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA was collecting US telephone records in bulk, three sets of proposals have emerged to change the way the agency operates. All would end the data collection program in its current form, but there are crucial differences between the rival plans. We take a look at how the proposals compare.

NYT: Was Marx Right?

NYT: Was Marx Right?

In the golden, post-war years of Western economic growth, the comfortable living standard of the working class and the economy’s overall stability made the best case for the value of capitalism and the fraudulence of Marx’s critical view of it. But in more recent years many of the forces that Marx said would lead to capitalism’s demise have become real, and troubling, once again.

AFP: When Bare Breasts Are a Problem But Violence Against Women is Not

AFP: When Bare Breasts Are a Problem But Violence Against Women is Not

The Femen group’s signature style of direct action is to show up at rallies or places in the news and bare their breasts, which typically are adorned with very direct slogans. The images generated from a Femen protest are often compelling and have real news value. Frequently, the photos capture male heavy-handedness as security forces or angry protesters confront the topless women. In early March AFP posted a picture of a Femen activist on its Facebook page but decided to censor the nipple to make sure not to violate Facebook’s nudity standards. But as several people commented under the picture, it is a strange paradox that it seems OK to show a photograph of violence against a woman, but not to let people see her chosen means of protest (toplessness.)

AJA: Failure to Protect

AJA: Failure to Protect

The FISA court and intelligence committees were supposed to be bulwarks against the dangers of secret spying programs but the shortcomings of these institutions are now clear. It’s troubling to think about all the times the CIA interfered with congressional oversight without so much as a public peep from Feinstein or her colleagues.

Ceres: SEC Climate Reporting

Ceres: SEC Climate Reporting

Climate change and its regulation pose significant risks and opportunities to investors and corporations. The key regulator that leads federal efforts to provide investors with information about corporate risks and opportunities is the SEC. This report examines the state of such corporate reporting and associated SEC comment letters.

AJA: 21st Century Church Committee

AJA: 21st Century Church Committee

A Church Committee for the 21st century, a special congressional investigatory committee that undertakes a significant and public re-examination of intelligence community practices that affect the rights of Americans and the laws governing those actions, is urgently needed.

PS: A New Progressive Political Economy

PS: A New Progressive Political Economy

The 2008 financial crash revealed major flaws in the neoliberal view of capitalism, and an objective view of the last 35 years shows that the neoliberal model has not performed well relative to the previous 30 years in terms of economic growth, financial stability, and social justice. But a credible progressive alternative has yet to take shape. First, a progressive political economy must be based on a firm belief in capitalism. Second, institutions do not evolve spontaneously, as neoliberals believe. Third the neoliberal view that a country’s economic performance should be assessed solely in terms of GDP growth and freedom must be rejected. Western countries that do not adopt this framework, and instead cling to a neoliberal political economy, will find it increasingly difficult to innovate and grow.

Oxfam: Brand Reputation

Oxfam: Brand Reputation

When customers speak, businesses listen. It’s an old adage in business that Oxfam and its supporters tested to see if this would be true on issues of sustainability and human rights. First we asked the 3 biggest chocolate companies, Mars, Mondelez and Nestle to address the inequality and injustices that women cocoa farmers and workers faced in their cocoa supply chains.

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