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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.

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.”

HP: John Oliver On Drone Strikes

HP: John Oliver On Drone Strikes

If Barack Obama is concerned about the legacy of his presidency, he might want to take a look at Sunday’s episode of “Last Week Tonight.” Not thinking about drones is a luxury many people don’t have, a point made overwhelmingly clear by a clip of a 13-year-old Pakistani boy whose grandmother had been killed by a drone strike. In the clip, Zubair Rehman testifies that he no longer loves blue skies, he prefers grey skies. “The drones do not fly when the skies are grey.” That was enough for John Oliver. “When children from other countries are telling us that we’ve made them fear the sky,” he insisted, “it might be time to ask some hard questions.”

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.

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.

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.” ​

TT: Science Behind Savagery

TT: Science Behind Savagery

As Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria butcher thousands of “infidels” and carry off their women and children into slavery, many in the West are inclined to see this as an unique outcrop of Islamic fundamentalism. Yet Bosnian Serb – ostensibly Christian – forces, massacred 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica. Hutu genocide of Tutsi in Rwanda, Khmer Rouge mass-murder of Cambodian city-dwellers, Nazi genocide of Jews, Gypsies and the disabled…. What, then are the origins of savagery, if they cannot be ascribed to a single religion or ideology?

NYT: Why We Fight Wars

NYT: Why We Fight Wars

A century has passed since the start of World War I, which many people at the time declared was “the war to end all wars.” Unfortunately, wars just kept happening. And with the headlines from Ukraine getting scarier by the day, this seems like a good time to ask why. One answer is that leaders may not understand the arithmetic. The larger problem, however, is that governments all too often gain politically from war, even if the war in question makes no sense in terms of national interests.

TG: Crimes Against Humanity in Gaza

TG: Crimes Against Humanity in Gaza

Late last week, the White House decried Israel’s attack on a UN school in Gaza as “totally unacceptable” and “totally indefensible”, then proceeded to approve $225m in funding for its Iron Dome. On Monday, the US state department went further, calling the airstrikes upon a UN school “disgraceful” – and yet America provides Israel with more than $3.1bn every year, restocking the ability of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) to hit more schools, and to wage total war against an imprisoned people, because of their nationality.

TG: Climate Models’ Accurate Prediction

TG: Climate Models’ Accurate Prediction

Predicting global surface temperature changes in the short-term is a challenge for climate models. Temperature changes over periods of a decade or two can be dominated by influences from ocean cycles like El Niño and La Niña. We can’t yet predict ahead of time how these cycles will change. A new paper led by James Risbey just out in Nature Climate Change takes a clever approach to evaluating how accurate climate model temperature predictions have been while getting around the noise caused by natural cycles.

ALA: Facebook’s Data Mining

ALA: Facebook’s Data Mining

The reason Facebook would want data on manipulating users’ emotions should be obvious. It’s the reason the company has been moving in on social location apps, health tracking and the “quantified self” trend of turning one’s lifestyle into a report card of easily digestible numbers. To Facebook, any and all domains of human experience should be accessible for capture and monetization. By buying virtual reality start-up Oculus VR, Facebook is likely setting itself up to harvest and experiment with intimate data from that domain as well.

DS: National Security Is US State Religion

DS: National Security Is US State Religion

For more than a year now, the revelations disclosed by former American intelligence worker Edward Snowden have fueled an at times fierce debate over the sense and legality of the NSAs sheer greed for data. Der Spiegel conducted two interviews. The first is with two major critics of the NSA’s work — human rights activist and lawyer Jesselyn Radack, who represents Snowden, and former spy Thomas Drake. The second interview is with John Podesta, a special advisor to United States President Barack Obama.

PD: Smart Homes Are Creepy

PD: Smart Homes Are Creepy

“The dwellings of the future will make you calmer, safer, richer and healthier,” Time’s cover assured me, soothingly. But taking my head out of the tech press and reading such a broad, consumer level cover-all of the smarter home, I was nagged by the thought that a modern surveillance state isn’t so much being forced on us, as it is sold to us device by device, with the idea that it is for our benefit. Today, where we live, work and shop, who we know and communicate with and what we watch is already in play. With the smart home and its inevitable link into whatever wearable technology eventually becomes popular, we’ll be giving over data on what time we get home, what the climate is inside and outside our home, our diet, weight and hygiene habits, where we are in the house at any given moment, the actual time we go to bed, what lights we like to have turned on and what resources we consume. Calmer, safer, richer and healthier? Try, quantified, coddled, surveilled, and monetized.

NYT: Reining in the Drones

NYT: Reining in the Drones

For all the slick technology, there are grave moral and legal questions going unanswered in the government’s use of armed drones to kill people considered terrorist threats. The problems involving these secretive executions are ably underlined by a bipartisan panel of military and intelligence veterans who warn in a new report that without adequate controls and public accountability, the United States could be on a “slippery slope” into a form of perpetual warfare that invites other nations to follow suit and never explain themselves.

WP: NSA Spying 90% on Ordinary People

WP: NSA Spying 90% on Ordinary People

Ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by the National Security Agency from U.S. digital networks. Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else. The material, provided by Snowden to The Washington Post spans President Obama’s first term, a period of exponential growth for the NSA’s domestic collection.

TG: Legal Mass Surveillance

TG: Legal Mass Surveillance

The UK government’s most senior security official, Charles Farr, detailed how searches on Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as emails to or from non-British citizens abroad, can be monitored by the security services because they are deemed to be “external communications”. It is the first time that the government has admitted that UK citizens, talking via supposedly private channels in social media such as Twitter direct messages, are deemed by the British government to be legitimate legal targets that do not require a warrant before intercepting.

AJA: Trickle Down Surveillance

AJA: Trickle Down Surveillance

Cell site simulators, also known as “stingrays,” are devices that trick cellphones into reporting their locations and identifying information. Initially the domain of the National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence agencies, the use of stingrays has trickled down to federal, state and local law enforcement. This sort of invasive surveillance raises serious questions about whether our tax dollars are funding violations of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.

NYT: War Gear for US Police

NYT: War Gear for US Police

During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.

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.

MIT: Robots Running This Way

MIT: Robots Running This Way

If their mobility can be improved, then these robots, and others like them, might stride out of research laboratories and populate the world with smart mobile machines. That helps explain why a few days before the DARPA Challenge, Boston Dynamics was acquired by Google.

NYT: Faking Cultural Literacy

NYT: Faking Cultural Literacy

It’s never been so easy to pretend to know so much without actually knowing anything. We pick topical, relevant bits from Facebook, Twitter or emailed news alerts, and regurgitate them. What matters to us is not necessarily having actually consumed content but having a position on it. We come perilously close to knowledgeability that is really a new model of know-nothingness.

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.

TG: Children’s Hyperactivity

TG: Children’s Hyperactivity

One of the world’s leading neuroscientists has suggested that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not a real disease. Clinicians are too readily prescribing psychostimulants to children. Animal studies have raised concerns over the potential for damage to be done.

WP: CIA Abuse

WP: CIA Abuse

A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concludes that the CIA misled the government and the public about aspects of its brutal interrogation program for years — concealing details about the severity of its methods, overstating the significance of plots and prisoners, and taking credit for critical pieces of intelligence that detainees had in fact surrendered before they were subjected to harsh techniques.

TD: The Data Snatchers

TD: The Data Snatchers

By 2020 there could be over 30 billion devices connected to the Internet. Once dumb, they will have smartened up thanks to sensors and other technologies embedded in them and, thanks to your machines, your life will quite literally have gone online. Techno-evangelists have a nice catchphrase for this future utopia of machines and the never-ending stream of information, known as Big Data, it produces: the Internet of Things. With the rise of the networked device, what people do in their homes, in their cars, in stores, and within their communities will be monitored and analyzed in ever more intrusive ways by corporations. Yes, imagine it. Welcome to a world where everything you do is collected, stored, analyzed, and, more often than not, packaged and sold to strangers — including government agencies.

WHO: Air Pollution and Death

WHO: Air Pollution and Death

In new estimates released today, WHO reports that in 2012 around 7 million people died – one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure. This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk.

NC: Power Inequality

NC: Power Inequality

Inequality is endemic to the core structure of an America that operates more as a plutocracy than a democracy. It is an inherent result of the consolidation of a substantial amount of both financial power and political influence in the hands of a few families.

Slate: Anti-Protest Bill

Slate: Anti-Protest Bill

In short, citizen protests puncture the pretty, patriotic illusion of a focus-grouped, Photoshopped media event, and replace it with the gritty patriotic reality of democracy in action. That’s why the teeny cosmetic changes to Section 1752, which purport to be about new kinds of security, are really all about optics.

AJA: Free Speech and Terrorism

AJA: Free Speech and Terrorism

Working toward social justice requires the courageous protest by a minority to help the majority gain the wisdom necessary to change; criminalizing social activity that leads to crucial discussions about how to minimize suffering and terror, and labeling that activity a form of terrorism, is contrary to the values necessary for a healthy democracy.

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.

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.

AN: Obama Gifts Big Coal

AN: Obama Gifts Big Coal

Clean coal is an essential component of the President’s ‘All of the Above’ energy strategy, but on the heels of the West Virginia coal-cleaning chemical disaster, amid record climate disruptions and drought and flooding, Obama’s billion dollar bonus to Big Coal might signal “game over” for clean energy and climate initiatives in Illinois.

NYT: Transparency?

NYT: Transparency?

Withholding the opinions of the Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal advice to the president and executive agencies, is deeply troubling. The office’s advice often serves as the final word on what the executive branch may legally do, and those who follow that advice are virtually assured that they will not face prosecution.

DS: NSA Hacking Unit

DS: NSA Hacking Unit

The NSA’s TAO hacking unit is considered to be the intelligence agency’s top secret weapon. It maintains its own covert network, infiltrates computers around the world and even intercepts shipping deliveries to plant back doors in electronics ordered by those it is targeting.

DS: US Bipolar Climate Future

DS: US Bipolar Climate Future

In the United States, two very different worlds have come into existence along the same coastline.New York City and New Bern, North Carolina both face the same projected rise in sea levels, but while one is preparing for the worst, the other is doing nothing on principle. A glimpse into America’s contradictory climate change planning.

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.”

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: What Took So Long?

NYT: What Took So Long?

It’s hard to analyze whether the $13 billion is a good deal for the government or for JPMorgan. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with the government recycling well-known facts to drag a bank that behaved badly to the negotiating table. Had the Justice Department aggressively investigated the banks’ practices using its full array of powers, who knows how much more it could have generated?

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.

TE: Catastrophe Bonds

TE: Catastrophe Bonds

The rise of cat bonds and other “insurance-linked securities” is starting to affect the price of insurance, particularly on the reinsurance side. Some weathered insurance executives are warning that naive investors are distorting prices, creating a frothy “shadow insurance” sector with systemic implications.

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.

DS: Factory Farming

DS: Factory Farming

Germany slaughters 58 million pigs a year and has built an efficient meat industry second only to the US in pork exports. Its optimized breeding, feeding and killing system churns out wondrously cheap cutlets — but at a hidden cost to the environment and our health.

GAO: Flood Insurance

GAO: Flood Insurance

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was added to GAO’s high-risk list in 2006 and remains high risk due to losses incurred from the 2005 hurricanes and subsequent losses, the financial exposure the program represents for the federal government, and ongoing management and operational challenges.

GAO: Pesticide Registration Problems

GAO: Pesticide Registration Problems

EPA does not have a reliable system, such as an automated data system, to track key information related to conditional registrations of pesticides, including whether companies have submitted additional data within required time frames. As a result, pesticides with conditional registrations could be marketed for years without EPA’s receipt and review of these data.

WEF: Global Risks 2013

WEF: Global Risks 2013

The Global Risks Report 2013 analyses 50 global risks in terms of impact, likelihood and interconnections, based on a survey of over 1000 experts from industry, government and academia. This year’s findings show that the world is more at risk as persistent economic weakness saps our ability to tackle environmental challenges.

PS: Climate Change Knowns

PS: Climate Change Knowns

The latest IPCC report describes our current predicament with disturbing clarity. The details near the top of the knowledge pyramid can and should be intensely debated. But our solid understanding of the fundamentals of global warming – the base of our knowledge of climate science – should provide reason enough to press on with the implementation of carbon-free energy technologies.

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.

IISS: Climate Change Denial

IISS: Climate Change Denial

Climate change caused by global warming is, arguably, a serious, even existential, threat to the world order and to the welfare of humanity. But over the last five or six years, public discourse has been driven less by policy needs and more by punditry.

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.

AN: Financial Armageddon

AN: Financial Armageddon

Increased regulation and low interest rates are driving lending from the regulated commercial banking system into the unregulated shadow banking system. The shadow banks, although free of government regulation, are propped up by a hidden government guarantee in the form of safe harbor status under the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Act pushed through by Wall Street. The result is to create perverse incentives for the financial system to self-destruct.

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.

NoC: Obama and Cluster Bombs

NoC: Obama and Cluster Bombs

Obama would be standing on stronger ground in demanding that Syria’s government eliminate its stocks of poison gas if the US would sign onto the UN’s 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. He should order the US military to destroy its massive stockpiles of cluster weapons, and vow never to use them again.

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.”

BBC: Arctic Ice Decline

BBC: Arctic Ice Decline

The volume of sea ice in the Arctic hit a new low this past winter, according to observations from the European Space Agency’s (Esa) Cryosat mission. In its three years of full operations, Cryosat has witnessed a continuing shrinkage of winter ice volume. It underlines, say scientists, the long-term decline of the floes.

Alternet: Coca-Cola Ads

Alternet: Coca-Cola Ads

It was laughable when Coca-Cola launched a campaign to fight obesity. And even more laughable when the king of soda’s anti-obesity campaign shifted all the blame for those extra pounds to lack of exercise and chairs. But now, the company that donated $1.7 million to defeat last year’s GMO labeling initiative in California has gone from laughable to dangerous.

Guardian: NSA Collects Everything

Guardian: NSA Collects Everything

A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals. The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its “widest-reaching” system for developing intelligence from the internet.

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.

NYT: Flood Insurance Disaster

NYT: Flood Insurance Disaster

There was no question that the nation’s troubled flood insurance program needed an overhaul when Congress passed legislation last year to eliminate many of the subsidies that had put the program about $25 billion into debt. But these reforms offered too much tough love and too little compassion for flood-prone homeowners.

NatGeo: Rising Seas

NatGeo: Rising Seas

In May the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million, the highest since three million years ago. Sea levels then may have been as much as 65 feet above today’s; the Northern Hemisphere was largely ice free year-round. Unless we change course dramatically in the coming years, our carbon emissions will create a world utterly different in its very geography from the one in which our species evolved. By the next century, if not sooner, large numbers of people will have to abandon coastal areas in Florida and other parts of the world. Some researchers fear a flood tide of climate-change refugees. We’re going to see civil unrest, war. You just wonder how or if civilization will function. How thin are the threads that hold it all together? How do you get people to realize that Miami—or London—will not always be there?

Al Jazeera: Wildfires and Climate Change

Al Jazeera: Wildfires and Climate Change

The devastating wildfire in Southern California that destroyed 26 homes and threatened hundreds of others in the San Jacinto Mountains before it was mostly contained on Sunday has prompted some scientists to examine whether climate change has impacted on the onset and severity of wildfire season.

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.

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.

Stanford/NYU: Living Under Drones

Stanford/NYU: Living Under Drones

In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false. It is essential that public debate about US policies take the negative effects of current policies into account.

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.

NoC: Bee-Killing Pesticides

NoC: Bee-Killing Pesticides

It is estimated over 10 million beehives been wiped out since 2007, as part of a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Two Congressional Democrats have co-sponsored new legislation called the Save America’s Pollinators Act of 2013 to take emergency action to save the remaining bees in the U.S., and in turn, the U.S. food supply.

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.

BBC: Arctic Time Bomb

BBC: Arctic Time Bomb

Scientists say that the release of large amounts of methane from thawing permafrost in the Arctic could have huge economic impacts for the world. The researchers estimate that the climate effects of the release of this gas could cost $60 trillion (£39 trillion), roughly the size of the global economy in 2012.

MIT: Rising Seas

MIT: Rising Seas

A new study finds that if temperatures go up by just one degree Celcius, sea levels will eventually—as ice sheet melt over the next 2,000 years—rise 2.3 meters. If temperature goes up 2 °C, oceans will rise 4.8 meters. If the planet warms by 4 °C, which is within the IPCC range of estimates, they will eventually rise by 9 meters, on average, and up to 12 meters in some parts of the world.

PS: Green Industrial Policies

PS: Green Industrial Policies

The future of our planet depends on the world economy’s rapid transition to “green growth” – modes of production based on clean technologies that significantly reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Yet carbon remains badly mispriced, owing to fossil-fuel subsidies and the absence of tax revenues needed to address the global externalities of climate change.

TD: Surveillance Blowback

TD: Surveillance Blowback

Within a decade, the U.S. will likely deploy an aerospace shield, advanced cyberwarfare capabilities, and even vaster, more omnipresent digital surveillance networks that will envelop the Earth in an electronic grid capable of blinding entire armies on the battlefield, atomizing a single suspected terrorist, or monitoring millions of private lives at home and abroad.

PSE: Wealth Income Ratios

PSE: Wealth Income Ratios

How do aggregate wealth-to-income ratios evolve in the long run and why? We address this question using 1970-2010 national balance sheets recently compiled in the top eight developed economies. For the U.S., U.K., Germany, and France, we are able to extend our analysis as far back as 1700. We find in every country a gradual rise of wealth-income ratios in recent decades, from about 200-300% in 1970 to 400-600% in 2010. In effect, today’s ratios appear to be returning to the high values observed in Europe in the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries (600-700%). This can be explained by a long run asset price recovery (itself driven by changes in capital policies since the world wars) and by the slowdown of productivity and population growth. Our results have important implications for capital taxation and regulation and shed new light on the changing nature of wealth, the shape of the production function, and the rise of capital shares.

Guardian: FISA Court

Guardian: FISA Court

Various NSA defenders beginning with President Obama have sought to assure the public that NSA surveillance is done under robust judicial oversight and that they do not target Americans. These claims are highly misleading, and in some cases outright false As part of the FISA court approval process, the NSA must submit a document describing how communications of US persons are collected and what is done with them; indeed, the principle purpose of the 2008 FISA Amendment Act was to allow government collection of Americans’ international communications. The Obama DOJ has repeatedly thwarted any efforts to obtain judicial rulings on whether this law is consistent with the Fourth Amendment.

NYT: Surveillance State

NYT: Surveillance State

The danger of the absence of rigorous, independent regulation and vigilant oversight to keep potential abuses of power from becoming a real menace to our freedom is that if we are too complacent about our civil liberties we could wake up one day and find them gone – not in a flash of nuclear terror but in a gradual, incremental surrender.

NYT: Obama and Bush’s Data Mining

NYT: Obama and Bush’s Data Mining

Mr. Obama has used some of the same aggressive powers in the name of guarding national security as his predecessor, even at the expense of civil liberties. Rather than dismantling Mr. Bush’s approach to national security, Mr. Obama has to some extent validated it and put it on a more sustainable footing.

NYT: Americans and Their Military

NYT: Americans and Their Military

After fighting two wars in nearly 12 years, the United States military is at a turning point. So are the American people. The armed forces must rethink their mission. the greatest challenge to our military is not from a foreign enemy — it’s the widening gap between the American people and their armed forces.

NYT: Trees Aglow at Night

NYT: Trees Aglow at Night

Hoping to give new meaning to the term “natural light,” a small group of biotechnology hobbyists and entrepreneurs has started a project to develop plants that glow, potentially leading the way for trees that can replace electric streetlamps and potted flowers luminous enough to read by. They have attracted more than $250,000 in pledges in about two weeks on the Web site Kickstarter.

BBC: Human Extinction

BBC: Human Extinction

International policymakers must pay serious attention to the reality of species-obliterating risks. The stakes couldn’t be higher, there is a real gap between the speed of technological advance and our understanding of its implications. The significance of existential risk is not, currently, on people’s radars.

Brookings: Lessons from Disasters

Brookings: Lessons from Disasters

For the past three years, we’ve compiled an annual review of natural disasters, highlighting not only overall trends for the year but drawing out lessons to prepare for future disasters. Given the fact that the frequency, intensity and unpredictability of natural disasters is expected to increase as a result of climate change, it is more important than ever that we learn from the past.

Bloomberg: Disaster Response

Bloomberg: Disaster Response

Many analysts predict that climate change and development in high-risk zones will only increase those costs as sea levels rise and weather becomes more extreme. So there’s plenty of incentive to prevent and reduce losses, and a massive opportunity for those with ideas of how to go about doing so.

Economist: Fixing Fat Cats

Economist: Fixing Fat Cats

On March 3rd, 68% of the Swiss electorate passed the “people’s initiative against fat-cat pay”, a measure that requires listed companies to offer shareholders a binding vote on senior managers’ pay and appointments at each annual general meeting. Criminal penalties apply in the event of non-compliance.

Economist: Corporate Governance

Economist: Corporate Governance

Shareholders used to mount activist campaigns only at firms that were performing horribly. Even then, shareholder activism was rare. But since the financial crisis of 2008, which revealed widespread flaws in corporate governance, shareholders have flexed their muscles more often.

ClimateWise

ClimateWise

International insurers committed to the principles: Lead in risk analysis, Inform public policy making, Support climate awareness amongst our customers, Incorporate climate change into our investment strategies, Reduce the environmental impact of our business, Report and be accountable.

The Culture of Surveillance

The Culture of Surveillance

In the late 20th century the language of “surveillance society” was popularized but now the outlines of “surveillance cultures” are emerging.

NYT: Johnson discusses Kaufman

NYT: Johnson discusses Kaufman

To break the grip Wall Street has over political power would take a broad citizens’ movement, a groundswell of educated opinion focused on breaking that power, but the biggest Wall Street firms are larger and probably now more powerful than they were in the run-up to 2008.

IGLHR

IGLHR

The mission of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights is to promote and defend human, women’s and worker’s rights in the global economy. With a highly experienced team of international advocates, the IGLHR supports exploited workers all over the developing world.

Principles for Responsible Investment

Principles for Responsible Investment

The UN-backed PRI Initiative is a network of international investors working together to incorporate environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) issues into decision-making and ownership practices to better align their objectives with those of society at large.

TEEB

TEEB

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity is an international initiative to draw attention to the economic benefits of biodiversity, the costs of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, and to draw together expertise from science, economics and policy to enable practical actions moving forward.

Pavan Sukhdev: Economist

Pavan Sukhdev: Economist

Pavan Sukhdev is McCluskey Fellow at Yale University. Building on 25 years of financial markets experience, his work is focused in showing how corporations and society can and should work together to achieve common goals and build a green economy.

Insurance Information Institute

Insurance Information Institute

The Insurance Information Institute’s mission is to improve public understanding of insurance – what it does and how it works. It is recognized by the media, governments, regulatory organizations, universities and the public as a primary source of information, analysis and referral.

INET: Controlling Systemic Risk

INET: Controlling Systemic Risk

Professor Ed Kane argues that the common definition of systemic risk leaves out a crucial element – the endogenous role that safety net subsidies to serious risk taking play in incentivizing firms to take action politically and economically to attain and strengthen their status as systemically important firms.

INET: Measuring Systemic Risk

INET: Measuring Systemic Risk

Banks take on excessive risk since they know, in case of failure, the taxpayer will step in to rescue them. That is a form of free insurance, and Ed Kane wants to end it. To do so, he says, we need to put a number on systemic risk, the amount for which the taxpayer is on the hook.