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DS: Century of Violence

DS: Century of Violence

World War I may have ended in 1918, but the violence it triggered in the Middle East still hasn’t come to an end. Arbitrary borders drawn by self-interested imperial powers have left a legacy that the region has not been able to overcome. No group of countries, particularly given their small sizes, has seen so many wars, civil wars, overthrows and terrorist attacks in recent decades. To understand how this historical anomaly came to pass, several factors must be considered: the region’s depressing history prior to World War I, the failure of the Arab elite and the continual intervention by the superpowers thereafter, the role of political Islam, the discovery of oil, the founding of Israel and the Cold War.

BBC: Crossing the Road Outlawed

BBC: Crossing the Road Outlawed

The idea of being fined for crossing the road at the wrong place can bemuse foreign visitors to the US, where the origins of so-called jaywalking lie in a propaganda campaign by the motor industry in the 1920s. The UK is among those countries where jaywalking is not an offence. But the rate of pedestrian deaths is half that of the US.

PS: Realism of Global Optimism

PS: Realism of Global Optimism

Only occasionally do we get uplifting, things-are-getting-better stories. When we do, they feel like a guilty pleasure. As a result, we often think that the world is in worse shape than it is. There are still plenty of problems in the world, but we need to remember that the world is a better place overall than we think, many indicators point to a world that is improving.

PS: Stagnation by Design

PS: Stagnation by Design

The difficulties that we are facing now are not the result of the inexorable laws of economics, to which we simply must adjust, as we would to a natural disaster, like an earthquake or tsunami. They are not even a kind of penance that we have to pay for past sins. Instead, our current difficulties are the result of flawed policies.

NYT: Is Atheism Irrational?

NYT: Is Atheism Irrational?

To believe in both materialism and evolution requires acceptance that your belief-producing faculties are not reliable, but that is to fall into a total skepticism, which leaves you with no reason to accept any of your beliefs. The only sensible course is to give up the claim leading to this conclusion: that both materialism and evolution are true.

AN: Sordid Tale

AN: Sordid Tale

Just about everything Americans need to know about the surge of income inequality is contained in the 43- page indictment last week of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. It’s a simple and base transaction. For a bit of personal wealth, a politician sells out the people who elected him, the people who trusted him to serve their interests.

NC: More Inequality Shock

NC: More Inequality Shock

Inequality is a cancer on society, here in the U.S. and across the globe. It keeps growing. But humanity seems helpless against it, as if it’s an alien force that no one understands, even as the life is being gradually drained from its victims. The recent Oxfam report on global wealth inequality reveals some of the ugly extremes that have divided our world.

BI: Development Revisited

BI: Development Revisited

The true measure of aid’s impact lies in the difference it makes to the lives of people living in poverty. Sweeping generalizations asserting how small the contribution is of aid to development are not only likely to be wrong, but can have real, adverse and unnecessary consequences for the lives of the least fortunate on our planet.

TD: End of History?

TD: End of History?

Climate change exists on a time scale not congenial either to media time or to the individual lifetimes of our short-lived species. If the end of the world doesn’t fit well with “the news,” neither does denial. The idea of a futureless humanity is difficult to take in and that has undoubtedly played a role in suppressing the newsiness of climate change.

TD: Myth of Human Progress

TD: Myth of Human Progress

Our financial system—like our participatory democracy—is a mirage. The ecosystem is at the same time disintegrating. We bow slavishly before hedonism and greed and the enticing illusion of limitless power, intelligence and prowess.The human species, led by white Europeans and Euro-Americans, has been on a 500-year-long planetwide rampage of conquering, plundering, looting, exploiting and polluting the earth—as well as killing the indigenous communities that stood in the way. But the game is up. The technical and scientific forces that created a life of unparalleled luxury—as well as unrivaled military and economic power for a small, global elite—are the forces that now doom us. The mania for ceaseless economic expansion and exploitation has become a curse, a death sentence.

PS: Global Economy 2014

PS: Global Economy 2014

At the dawn of a new year, the world is in the midst of several epic transitions. Economic growth patterns, the geopolitical landscape, the social contract that binds people together, and our planet’s ecosystem are all undergoing radical, simultaneous transformations, generating anxiety and, in many places, turmoil.

NYT: NSA Targets Children

NYT: NSA Targets Children

The turtle wearing a hat backward, baggy jeans and purple sunglasses looks just like other cartoon characters that marketers use to make products like cereal and toys appealing to children. But the reptile, known as T. Top, who says creating and breaking codes is really “kewl,” is pushing the benefits of the National Security Agency.

NYT: NSA Program is Illegal

NYT: NSA Program is Illegal

The Obama administration has portrayed the NSA’s bulk collection program as useful and lawful but an independent federal privacy watchdog has concluded that the program to collect bulk phone call records has provided only “minimal” benefits in counterterrorism efforts, is illegal and should be shut down. The program “lacks a viable legal foundation under Section 215, implicates constitutional concerns under the First and Fourth Amendments, raises serious threats to privacy and civil liberties as a policy matter, and has shown only limited value,” the report said. “As a result, the board recommends that the government end the program.”

DS: Disaster Centennial

DS: Disaster Centennial

It has now been 100 years since the outbreak of World War I, but the European catastrophe remains relevant today. As the Continent looks back this year, old wounds could once again be rubbed raw. More than 60 million soldiers from five continents participated in that orgy of violence. The absolute focus on national interests did not lead to happy times for any of the wartime enemies. In the era of NATO and integrated armed forces, hardly anyone can imagine a war between Europeans. Still, it is possible to sow discord in other ways in the 21st century. Historians of different stripes note with concern that the course of events in 1914 are not that different from what is happening in Europe today.

NC: Surveillance and Scandal

NC: Surveillance and Scandal

Washington has made a $1.2 trillion investment in a new apparatus of world power. To update Henry Stimson: in the age of the Internet, gentlemen don’t just read each other’s mail, they watch each other’s porn. Even if we think we have nothing to hide, all of us, whether world leaders or ordinary citizens, have good reason to be concerned.

TG: 85 as Wealthy as World’s Poorest Half

TG: 85 as Wealthy as World’s Poorest Half

The world’s wealthiest people aren’t known for travelling by bus, but if they fancied a change of scene then the richest 85 people on the globe – who between them control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population put together – could squeeze onto a single double-decker.

AN: Obama and Haiti’s Minimum Wage

AN: Obama and Haiti’s Minimum Wage

The Obama Administration fought to keep the Haitian minimum wage to 31 cents an hour. Haiti passed a law in 2012 raising its minimum wage to 61 cents an hour. America corporations like Hanes and Levi Strauss vociferously objected, claiming such an increase would irreparably harm their business and profitability.

BP: When Einstein Met Tagore

BP: When Einstein Met Tagore

On July 14, 1930, Albert Einstein welcomed into his home on the outskirts of Berlin the Indian philosopher Rabindranath Tagore. The two proceeded to have one of the most stimulating, intellectually riveting conversations in history. The book, Science and the Indian Tradition: When Einstein Met Tagore, recounts the historic encounter, amidst a broader discussion of the intellectual renaissance that swept India in the early twentieth century, germinating a curious osmosis of Indian traditions and secular Western scientific doctrine. This excerpt from one of Einstein and Tagore’s conversations dances between previously examined definitions of science, beauty, consciousness, and philosophy in a masterful meditation on the most fundamental questions of human existence.

HI: Prepper Philosophy

HI: Prepper Philosophy

The “defend what’s mine” mentality states that the moment “shit goes down,” every other human in the world instantly becomes either a resource to be used or a threat to be eliminated. Never have I encountered someone who is prepping for the purpose of building a post-apocalyptic community or offering a haven of help and support for other less-prepared people in the event that something terrible does happen.

NYT: Abolish the Corporate Income Tax

NYT: Abolish the Corporate Income Tax

In recent decades, American workers have suffered one body blow after another: the decline in manufacturing, foreign competition, outsourcing, the Great Recession and smart machines that replace people everywhere you look. Amazon and Google are in a horse race to see how many humans they can put out of work with self-guided delivery drones and driverless cars. What can workers do to mitigate their plight? One useful step would be to lobby to eliminate the corporate income tax.

NC: Monsters of Our Own Creation

NC: Monsters of Our Own Creation

“We know everything but learn nothing” would be an honest slogan for the NSA, CIA and lesser-known spy agencies that specialize in leading us so dangerously astray. For all of their massive intrusion into the personal lives of individuals throughout the world, it is difficult to recall a time when the “intelligence” they collected provided such myopic policy insight.

AN: Economic Exploitation

AN: Economic Exploitation

Reviewing a variety of political systems, Aristotle concluded that democracy was the best – or perhaps the least bad – form of government. But he recognized a flaw: The great mass of the poor could use their voting power to take the property of the rich, which would be unfair. Madison and Aristotle arrived at opposite solutions: Aristotle advised reducing inequality, by what we would regard as welfare state measures. Madison felt that the answer was to reduce democracy.

PS: Income Inequality Policy

PS: Income Inequality Policy

US President Barack Obama recently declared that growing income inequality and the inequality of opportunity that it creates are the defining challenges now facing America. These problems have risen to the top of the political agenda in the United States, but they are not uniquely American problems.

TG: Book Banning in the US

TG: Book Banning in the US

An anti-censorship group in America has reported a flurry of attempted book bannings in the last quarter of the year and has said there are increasing numbers of books being taken off school shelves that deal with race or sexuality or are written by “minority” authors.

SGI: Middle Class and American Power

SGI: Middle Class and American Power

The greatest danger is one that will not be faced for decades but that is lurking out there. If we move to a system where half of the country is either stagnant or losing ground while the other half is surging, the social fabric of the United States is at risk, and with it the massive global power the United States has accumulated.

BBC: Perils of Belief

BBC: Perils of Belief

While human beings are willing to kill others for the sake of belief, they are ready to die for the same reason. No other species shows any sign of killing or dying for the sake of a mere idea. Some will say that’s because other species can’t formulate ideas or beliefs, but I think the answer lies elsewhere. The ability to form complex beliefs about the world has given us humans great power – at least over material things. But these more highly developed intellectual capacities also give us a clearer awareness of the fact that we are going to die. This can fill us with dread, and there are many who find relief in clinging to a belief for which they are ready to sacrifice their lives. Curiously, it may be fear of mortality that has led so many believers to embrace death.

MIT: 2013 Top Tech Reads

MIT: 2013 Top Tech Reads

MIT Technology Review looks back at leading stories from 2013 including stories related to the pricing of drugs by pharmaceutical and biotech companies, the danger of increased information gathering by governments and companies, the internet and free speech, the effect on jobs of automation, artificial intelligence, and advanced software, the creation of treatments for erasing traumatic memories, the future of driverless cars, the reinvention of the computer chip, saving Wikipedia, and the necessity for genetic engineering in crops.

PD: Google Surveillance Problem

PD: Google Surveillance Problem

Private sector companies like Google run hi-tech spying operations that vacuum up private information and use it to compile detailed dossiers on hundreds of millions of people around the world — and that’s on top of their work colluding and contracting with government intelligence agencies. Silicon Valley runs on for-profit surveillance that dwarfs anything being run by the NSA.

NYT: Inequality for Dummies

NYT: Inequality for Dummies

Economic inequality is manifestly real, growing and dangerous. The alarming thing is not inequality per se, but immobility. A stratified society in which the bottom and top are mostly locked in place is not just morally offensive, it is unstable. When the ruling elites have pulled up the ladder and kept newcomers from getting a foothold, their economies have suffocated and died.

WH: András Schiff Explores Beethoven Piano Sonatas

WH: András Schiff Explores Beethoven Piano Sonatas

András Schiff last performed the complete Beethoven piano sonatas at Wigmore Hall from 2004–6 to overwhelming critical acclaim, with the Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger describing one particular performance as ‘a riveting mixture of erudition, analysis, passion, wit and memory’.
On the day before each of the eight recitals in the series, the world-renowned pianist, pedagogue and lecturer gave a lecture-recital in which he explored the works to be performed. Deeply engaging and insightful, these thought-provoking lecture-recitals, recorded live at the Hall, are now available below to hear as eight lecture-recitals.

NYT: Surveillance Cosy or Chilling

NYT: Surveillance Cosy or Chilling

Last year, two literal-minded Supreme Court justices were considering whether police officers needed a warrant before placing a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s S.U.V. when they ended up having a rather fanciful argument: What would the founding fathers make of a GPS device, anyway?

NC: Obama and Economic Inequality

NC: Obama and Economic Inequality

Today’s techniques of finance are designed to make the rich richer. None are designed to make the poor richer. That’s why the poor are poor. The reason they are poor is because they do not have viable capital ownership. Thus, we need to focus on revising today’s techniques of finance to broaden capital ownership.

AN: Walking is a Wonder Drug

AN: Walking is a Wonder Drug

Researchers have discovered a “wonder drug” for many of today’s most common medical problems. It’s been proven to help treat or prevent diabetes, depression, breast and colon cancer, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, obesity, anxiety and osteoporosis. The drug is called walking, Its generic name is physical activity.

AN: Right to Clean Water

AN: Right to Clean Water

UN member States have affirmed that the rights to water and sanitation are legally binding in international law, yet their agreement is marred by the reluctance of the United States to join in a universal agreement on the definition of these rights. The U.S. government’s position works against the interests of the billions of people who lack adequate access to water and sanitation.

NYT: NSA Actions Probably Unconstitutional

NYT: NSA Actions Probably Unconstitutional

A federal district judge ruled on Monday that the National Security Agency program that is systematically keeping records of all Americans’ phone calls most likely violates the Constitution, describing its technology as “almost Orwellian” and suggesting that James Madison would be “aghast” to learn that the government was encroaching on liberty in such a way. District Judge Leon wrote that he could not “imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary’ invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval… Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment,” which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. He also wrote that the government had failed to cite “a single instance in which analysis of the N.S.A.’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive.”

NYT: Selling ADHD

NYT: Selling ADHD

The rise of A.D.H.D. diagnoses and prescriptions for stimulants over the years coincided with a remarkably successful two-decade campaign by pharmaceutical companies to publicize the syndrome and promote the pills to doctors, educators and parents. With the children’s market booming, the industry is now employing similar marketing techniques as it focuses on adult A.D.H.D., which could become even more profitable.

AN: American Inhumanity

AN: American Inhumanity

What would it be like if people in the United States knew they had rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and demanded to have them realized? We believe it would be a very different world – the economy would be a more equitable with full employment, healthcare for all, no people without housing and more humane on every front. Instead, this week an annual report of Credit Suisse ranked the US as the most unequal of all advanced countries.

NPR: Easter Island

NPR: Easter Island

Easter Island has been thought of as a clear example of a society that destroyed itself by overexploiting its own resources. Two anthropologists now think that may not be what happened, but their alternative view is hardly consoling. On Easter Island, people learned to live with less and forgot what it was like to have more. Maybe that will happen to us. A future in which we continuously degrade our planet, losing plant after plant, animal after animal, forgetting what we once enjoyed, adjusting to lesser circumstances, cannot be called “success.” To prevent an ecological crisis, we must become alarmed – that’s when we’ll act – but the new Easter Island story suggests that humans may never hit the alarm. There’s a lesson here and it’s not a happy one.

NYT: Europe v Amazon

NYT: Europe v Amazon

On its home territory, Amazon.com is routinely hailed as a jobs machine. The recession might have cut deeper in Europe, making the question of new jobs even more crucial, but the attitude there is much cooler toward Amazon and its high-tech ways. In Britain, the warehouses that so impressed President Obama have been compared, in a February story in The Financial Times, with a “slave camp.”

NYT: Caught in Unemployment

NYT: Caught in Unemployment

Joblessness itself has become a trap, an impediment to finding a job. Economists are concerned that joblessness lasting more than six months is a major factor preventing people from getting rehired, with potentially grave consequences for tens of millions of Americans and for the country, too: lost production, increased social spending, decreased tax revenue and slower growth.

TE: Cash to the Poor

TE: Cash to the Poor

Unconditional Cash Transfers work better than almost anyone would have expected. They dent the stereotype of poor people as inherently feckless and ignorant. But Conditional Cash Transfers are usually better still, especially when dealing with the root causes of poverty and, rather than just alleviating it, helping families escape it altogether.

AN: Dickensian Nightmare

AN: Dickensian Nightmare

Can art do anything for the 99%? The case of Charles Dickens argues that yes—when genius, perseverance, activism, and admittedly, luck, combine, artistic creations can spark fires that burn through encrusted layers of human wrongs. It doesn’t happen overnight, and not as often as we wish. But it happens.

SA: Smartphones Killing Us

SA: Smartphones Killing Us

What permanent connectivity does to our minds is the subject of great debate. What it does to public space is less often acknowledged. Some restaurants, bars and coffee shops have banned smartphones and computers for their corrosive social effects. Anti-technology zoning for cognitive health to protect us from our own worst instincts is a more complex challenge.

NYT: Give Snowden Asylum in Germany

NYT: Give Snowden Asylum in Germany

All of our current knowledge about surveillance is thanks to one man, Edward J. Snowden. It’s embarrassing that democratic European countries, where the rule of law should reign supreme, have until now shied away from confrontation with the United States and have preferred to place Mr. Snowden’s fate and security in Russia’s hands.

TE: The Recorded World

TE: The Recorded World

A huge, looming issue is the growing sophistication of face-recognition technologies. We may not be far from a world in which your movements could be tracked all the time, where a stranger walking down the street can immediately identify exactly who you are. The fight should start now. Otherwise, in the blink of an eye, privacy could be gone.

NYT: Childhood Obesity

NYT: Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity, at long last, may have peaked — even among the poor, where the problem is most prevalent. So how has this small bit of success been achieved? One factor is an extensive behavior-change campaign; another is the provision of healthier food to poor neighborhoods. But there may be a more direct reason for the progress against child obesity.

TE: Economics of Climate Change

TE: Economics of Climate Change

If they are to work, economic models of climate change will require sweeping changes to incorporate the idea that global warming can damage capital stock, productivity and growth. They will also need low or even negative discount rates, to reflect the possibility that future generations will be worse off than the current one.

FA: End of (Easy) Hypocrisy

FA: End of (Easy) Hypocrisy

One of the reasons American hypocrisy is so effective is that it stems from sincerity: most U.S. politicians do not recognize just how two-faced their country is. Yet as the United States finds itself less able to deny the gaps between its actions and its words, it will face increasingly difficult choices — and may ultimately be compelled to start practicing what it preaches.

TG: Universities Watching You

TG: Universities Watching You

It monitors email and social media accounts, uses thousands of surveillance cameras to track behavior and movement, is funded by billions of dollars from the federal government, and has been called “the most authoritarian institution in America”. The National Security Agency? Nope. It’s your average college or university.

Oxford Martin: Unstable Future

Oxford Martin: Unstable Future

A diverse group of highly respected global leaders is calling for a radical shake-up in politics and business to deliver progress on climate change, reduce economic inequality, improve corporate practices and address the chronic burden of disease.

BBC: Why America Doesn’t Work

BBC: Why America Doesn’t Work

There are those who scorn the idea that the American government is dysfunctional. Despite the fact that it left the world teetering on the edge of an economic catastrophe, they say everything is working just fine. American government’s purpose is to allow a fractious minority to stop the will of the majority. We shouldn’t be surprised when it succeeds.

TE: Inequality

TE: Inequality

A barrage of new statistics on American living standards offers some grounds for optimism. A typical American household’s income has stopped falling for the first time in five years, and the poverty rate has stopped rising. But the main message is a grim one. Most of the growth is going to an extraordinarily small share of the population. The most unequal country in the rich world is thus becoming even more so.

HP: Denmark Happiest on Earth

HP: Denmark Happiest on Earth

Last month, Denmark was crowned the happiest country in the world. The happiest countries have in common a large GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy at birth and a lack of corruption in leadership. But also essential were three things over which individual citizens have a bit more control over: A sense of social support, freedom to make life choices and a culture of generosity.

NYT: Experience As It Once Was

NYT: Experience As It Once Was

I was going 115 miles per hour on a German autobahn when it occurred to me that one reason the German economy is doing so well is that people can get from one place to another so fast. The question of genuine, undiluted experience has been on my mind. Germans have a good word for something authentic: “echt.” We have an echt deficit these days. Everything seems filtered, monitored, marshaled, ameliorated, graded and app-ready — made into a kind of branded facsimile of experience for easier absorption. The thrill of the unexpected is lost. The modern world’s tech-giddy control and facilitation makes us stupid. We demand shortcuts, as if there are shortcuts to genuine experience. The state’s cameras are trained on streets where people’s gazes are trained on hand-held screens that map their movements — offering facsimiles of the experience they might have if they ever looked up.

NYT: California Health Act

NYT: California Health Act

With enthusiastic backing from state officials and an estimated seven million uninsured, California is a crucial testing ground for the success of President Obama’s health care law. It is building the country’s largest state-run health insurance exchange and has already expanded Medicaid coverage for the poor. Officials hope that the efforts here will eventually attract more than two million people who are currently uninsured.

TE: Multiplexed Metropolis

TE: Multiplexed Metropolis

As they go about their business of producing most of the world’s wealth, novelty and human interaction, cities also produce a vast amount of data. The people who run cities are ever more keen on putting those data to work. Hardly a week passes without a mayor somewhere in the world unveiling a “smart-city” project—often at one of the many conferences hailing the concept.

NoC: Hope for Future of Food

NoC: Hope for Future of Food

When it comes to the future of the food system, it’s hard not to be discouraged. Nearly one billion people are hungry, and another 1.5 billion are obese or overweight. All over the world, people waste 1.3 billion tons of food each year. But Food Tank has compiled a list of 14 reasons to be hopeful about the future of the food system.

DS: Renewable Energy for Europe

DS: Renewable Energy for Europe

Until recently, European Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger had to rely entirely on the power of his words to push through his policies. That may change as he presents a list of 200 infrastructure projects that he sees as crucial for Europe’s future energy supply. He intends to spend a total of €5.8 billion ($7.9 billion) to promote the cross-border construction of new power lines, energy storage facilities and gas pipeline.

AN: Inequality and Dumbness

AN: Inequality and Dumbness

Tthe Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the results of a two-year study in which thousands of adults in 23 countries were tested for their skills in literacy, basic math and technology. The US fared badly in all three fields, ranking somewhere in the middle for literacy but way down at the bottom for technology and math. The question is, do the study’s results imply that “US adults are dumber than your average human”?

PS: New Climate Economics

PS: New Climate Economics

The latest IPCC Report puts a new debate center stage: how to reconcile increased action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with strong economic growth. The primary question that we need to ask is how public policy can help to achieve its core goals while reducing emissions and building a more climate-resilient economy. As science makes clear how imperative the climate question is, it is time for economists and policymakers to explain how it can be answered.

PS: In Defense of World Government

PS: In Defense of World Government

A world “government” could never have democratic legitimacy, but the idea of world government can illuminate a sensible path for capturing the benefits of a more effective global polity. Given a fully interdependent global market, we should worry less about the risk of bad rules and policies from imperfect global institutions and more about how to exploit these institutions’ potential to lock in policies at home and abroad that minimize risks and maximize opportunities for people everywhere.

TG: The Snowden Files

TG: The Snowden Files

Novelist John Lancaster, given access to the Snowden Files, discusses his impressions. At a moment of austerity and with a general sense that our state’s ability to guarantee prosperity for its citizens is in retreat, that same state is about to make the biggest advance ever in its security powers. Our spies and security services can, for the first time, monitor everything about us, and they can do so with a few clicks of a mouse and – to placate the lawyers – a drop-down menu of justifications. Looking at the GCHQ papers, it is clear that there is an ambition to get access to everything digital. And yet nobody, at least in Britain, seems to care. Snowden’s revelations are not just interesting or important but vital, because the state is about to get powers that no state has ever had, and we need to have a public debate about those powers and what their limits are to be.

NYT: When Wealth Disappears

NYT: When Wealth Disappears

As bad as things in Washington are — the federal government shutdown since Tuesday, the slim but real potential for a debt default, a political system that seems increasingly ungovernable — they are going to get much worse, for the United States and other advanced economies, in the years ahead. We are reaching end times for Western affluence. The underlying reason for the stagnation is that a half-century of remarkable one-off developments in the industrialized world will not be repeated. Policy makers simply pray for a strong recovery. They opt for the illusion because the reality is too bleak to bear.

NYT: Rich People Care Less

NYT: Rich People Care Less

A growing body of recent research shows that people with the most social power pay scant attention to those with little such power. Bringing the micropolitics of interpersonal attention to the understanding of social power, researchers are suggesting, has implications for public policy.

NYT: Improving Social Skills

NYT: Improving Social Skills

A study published Thursday in the journal Science finds that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence.

Brookings: Ending Starvation by 2015

Brookings: Ending Starvation by 2015

December 31, 2015 is the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, the global anti-poverty targets for tackling extreme poverty around the world. We are now facing the final moment to bend the relevant curves of progress. For decision makers, 2013 is the real 2015.

NYT: NSA Mapping Social Connections

NYT: NSA Mapping Social Connections

Since 2010, the National Security Agency has been exploiting its huge collections of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with officials. The spy agency began allowing the analysis of phone call and e-mail logs in November 2010 to examine Americans’ networks of associations for foreign intelligence purposes after N.S.A. officials lifted restrictions on the practice, according to documents provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.

HP: Exceptionalism and California

HP: Exceptionalism and California

Conservatives who love to brag about American exceptionalism must come here to California, and see it in person. And then they should be afraid — very afraid. Because while the rest of the country is beset by stories of right-wing takeovers in places like North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin, California is going in the opposite direction and creating the kind of modern, liberal nation the country as a whole can only dream about.

HP: Tech is Killing Eye Contact

HP: Tech is Killing Eye Contact

As we spend more and more of our time staring at screens, there’s less time left over to look into people’s eyes. The growth of multitasking on mobile devices and remote working have normalized the experience of having conversations with little or no eye contact. These interactions aren’t just what previous generations would have considered rude, they’re also undermining our ability to connect with the people in our lives.

Brookings: Social Mobility

Brookings: Social Mobility

Achievement gaps open up in early childhood, damaging chances of upward mobility—especially for those from poor backgrounds. The question is: what can we do about it? High-quality pre-k and high-quality home visiting programs can both help to close early childhood gaps in parenting and in the development of cognitive skills.

AN – RIP Middle Class

AN – RIP Middle Class

For the majority of human history – and in the majority of countries today – there have been only two classes: aristocracy and peasantry. Twentieth century America temporarily escaped this stratification, but now, as statistics on economic inequality demonstrate, we’re slipping back in that direction.

WP: Americans and Retirement Funds

WP: Americans and Retirement Funds

When lawmakers added a subsection to the tax code called the 401(k) more than three decades ago, they could not have imagined that this string of three numbers and a letter would become a fixture in the financial lexicon. But the rise of the 401(k) has steadily shifted more financial responsibility onto the shoulders of many Americans who are – let’s face it – clueless.

Marketplace: 401(k)s Fail Americans

Marketplace: 401(k)s Fail Americans

By the mid ’90s, 30 million Americans had 401(k) plans. Do-it-yourself retirement seemed easy in the decade’s bull market, but in 2000 the dotcom bubble burst, and then in the financial crisis the average 401(k) plan lost 27 percent. Today, the typical middle-class household nearing retirement has saved $120,000 — one-tenth what many say it needs.

WP: 401(k)s Making Inequality Worse

WP: 401(k)s Making Inequality Worse

The once-dominant defined benefit pension plan–which pays out a fixed amount after an employee retires–is on its way to becoming an historical artifact. According to a new analysis from the labor-oriented Economic Policy Institute, the effect has been a stratification of retirement savings by education, income, and race–which could deepen inequality among the elderly as the population ages.

AN: Abandoning Religion

AN: Abandoning Religion

Americans are abandoning organized religion in droves. Data from the Public Religion Research Institute shows that while only 7 percent of Americans were raised outside a religious tradition, nearly 19 percent are religiously unaffiliated today. One-third of Americans under age 30, meanwhile, say they have no religion.

MIT: Cryptographers and Ethics

MIT: Cryptographers and Ethics

It looks as if the code-breakers at the National Security Agency—and possibly the academics that often assist them—are in clear, dramatic breach of their own profession’s code of conduct that requires honesty and trustworthiness and respect of others’ privacy. Snowden, the NSA whistleblower made his own “moral decision to tell the public about spying that affects us all.”

NoC: Beyond Homo Economicus

NoC: Beyond Homo Economicus

Humanity currently faces numerous global challenges, including climate change, resource depletion, financial crisis, deficient education, widespread poverty, and food insecurity. But, despite the devastating consequences implied by a failure to address these issues, we have not risen to the occasion.

NYT: NSA War on Encryption

NYT: NSA War on Encryption

The National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age, according to newly disclosed documents.

Economist: Overcrowded Prisons

Economist: Overcrowded Prisons

For decades American politicians have assumed that mass incarceration works, wooing voters with ever-tougher sentencing laws. The dramatic fall in crime since the 1990s has persuaded many that they were right. Prison has diminishing returns, and America long ago passed the point where jailing more people makes sense.

Economist: Praise for Laziness

Economist: Praise for Laziness

There is a never-ending supply of business gurus telling us how we can, and must, do more. Yet the biggest problem in the business world is not too little but altogether too much busy-ness. All this “leaning in” is producing an epidemic of overwork, and has been producing negative returns for some time now. It is time to try the far more radical strategy of leaning back.

Reuters: Facebook Facial Recognition

Reuters: Facebook Facial Recognition

Facebook Inc is considering incorporating most of its 1 billion-plus members’ profile photos into its growing facial recognition database, expanding the scope of the social network’s controversial technology. Facial recognition technology has been a sensitive issue for technology companies, raising concerns among some privacy advocates and government officials.

BBC: Turning to Farming

BBC: Turning to Farming

A small but – anecdotally – growing group of Americans are leaving the structure and security of an office job for the gruelling, yet rewarding work of earning money from the land. Some want to be a part of improving the food supply for themselves and their community; others are excited by the prospect of becoming self-sufficient, or simply working outdoors like their ancestors did.

NYT: Surveillance and Behavior

NYT: Surveillance and Behavior

A new research paper shows in detail how significant the surveillance effect on behavior can be. The researchers measured the impact of software that monitors employee-level theft and sales transactions, before and after the technology was installed, at 392 restaurants in 39 states. The research suggests that the surveillance effect on employee behavior is striking.

NYT: Facial Scanning & Surveillance

NYT: Facial Scanning & Surveillance

The federal government is making progress on developing a surveillance system that would pair computers with video cameras to scan crowds and automatically identify people by their faces – now is the time for the government to establish oversight rules and limits on how it will someday be used.

Alternet: Schools Failing Imagination

Alternet: Schools Failing Imagination

Critical pedagogy becomes dangerous in the current historical moment because it emphasizes critical reflection, bridging the gap between learning and everyday life, understanding the connection between power and difficult knowledge, and extending democratic rights and identities by using the resources of history.

NatGeo: Sugar

NatGeo: Sugar

Five million years ago, a cold wind blew. A bridge emerged and a few adventurous apes moved out of Africa to settle in the rain forests of Eurasia. But the cooling continued, replacing tropical groves of fruit with deciduous forests – a famine struck the apes. A mutation occurred in one making it a wildly efficient processor of fructose. Even small amounts were stored as fat, a huge survival advantage when food was scarce. Then one day that ape returned to its home in Africa and begot the apes we see today, including the one that spread its sugar-loving progeny across the globe. Only animals with the mutation survived, today all apes have it, including humans. It got our ancestors through the lean years. Our world is now flooded with fructose, but our bodies have evolved to get by on very, very little of it – the very thing that saved us could kill us in the end.

Economist: Retirement Benefits

Economist: Retirement Benefits

Detroit may be an extreme case of fiscal incontinence. But its bankruptcy highlights a long-term problem faced by many American cities and states; how to fund generous pension and health-care promises that are no longer affordable. Now Detroit, like other cities, faces a choice. It has made promises to creditors and retirees that it cannot meet in full. How should it share the pain?

AlterNet: US and Democracy

AlterNet: US and Democracy

American power is diminishing, as it has been in fact since its peak in 1945, but it’s still incomparable. And it’s dangerous. Obama’s remarkable global terror campaign and the limited, pathetic reaction to it in the West is one shocking example. And it is a campaign of international terrorism – by far the most extreme in the world.

NYT: School Standards

NYT: School Standards

The Common Core, a set of standards for kindergarten through high school that has been ardently supported by the Obama administration and many business leaders and state legislatures, is facing growing opposition from both the right and the left even before it has been properly introduced into classrooms.

Yahoo: Amazon Selling Everything

Yahoo: Amazon Selling Everything

What Bezos saw that others didn’t was that his business was about distribution, not inventory or product categories. With the right system in place, Amazon will be able to deliver anything to customers the same day it’s purchased online. It marks the beginning of the end of shopping as the whole world knows it.

Jerry Mander: Globalization

Jerry Mander: Globalization

Mander draws attention to capitalism’s obsessive need to dominate and undermine democracy, as well as to diminish social and economic equity. Designed to operate free of morality, the system promotes permanent war as a key economic strategy. Worst of all, the problems of capitalism are intrinsic to the form.

Josette Sheeran: Civil Servant

Josette Sheeran: Civil Servant

Josette Sheeran is president and CEO of Asia Society. She is responsible for leading and advancing the organization’s work throughout the U.S. and Asia, and across its disciplines of arts and culture, policy and business, and education. Formerly, Sheeran was Vice Chair of the World Economic Forum and Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme.

Jessica Jackley: Social Entrepreneur

Jessica Jackley: Social Entrepreneur

Jessica is a social entrepreneur focused on empowering others through entrepreneurship and access to capital. She currently serves as a Venture Partner with the Collaborative Fund, focused on investing in creative entrepreneurs who want to change the world through emerging technologies.

Muhammad Yunus: Economist

Muhammad Yunus: Economist

Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus’s vision is the total eradication of poverty from the world. This work is a fundamental rethink on the economic relationship between the rich and the poor, their rights and their obligations. Credit is the last hope left to those faced with absolute poverty. That is why Muhammad Yunus believes that the right to credit should be recognized as a fundamental human right.

Richard Wilkinson: Social Epidemiology

Richard Wilkinson: Social Epidemiology

Richard Wilkinson, Emeritus Professor of Social Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, trained in economic and social history and then in epidemiology. Over more than 30 years Richard has played a formative role in research and public awareness of health inequalities and the social determinants of health.

Paul Collier: Economist

Paul Collier: Economist

Paul Collier is a Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government and Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies. His research covers the causes and consequences of civil war; the effects of aid and the problems of democracy in low-income and natural-resources rich societies.

Dean Ornish: Physician

Dean Ornish: Physician

Dean Ornish, M.D., is the founder and president of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute and Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCSF. For over 35 years, Dr. Ornish has directed clinical research demonstrating that comprehensive lifestyle changes may begin to reverse even severe coronary heart disease, without drugs or surgery.

Mark Bittman: Food

Mark Bittman: Food

Although Mark Bittman never formally trained as a chef, his pursuits as a curious and tenacious foodie have made him a casual culinary master. After a decade as the “Minimalist,” Bittman has emerged a respected spokesperson on all things edible: He’s concerned about the ecological and health impacts of our modern diet, which he characterizes as overwhelmingly meat-centered and hooked on fast food.

Rob Hopkins: Environmentalist

Rob Hopkins: Environmentalist

Rob Hopkins is an independent activist and writer on environmental issues, based in Totnes, England. He is best known as the founder and figurehead of the Transition Townsmovement. In 2007, he co-founded the Transition Network, a charity designed to support the many Transition initiatives emerging around the world.

Ken Robinson: Educationalist

Ken Robinson: Educationalist

Why don’t we get the best out of people? Sir Ken Robinson argues that it’s because we’ve been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers. Students with restless minds and bodies — far from being cultivated for their energy and curiosity — are ignored or even stigmatized, with terrible consequences. “We are educating people out of their creativity,” Robinson says.

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