GOOD economic history tells dramatic stories of ingenuity and aspiration, greed and national self-interest. Sven Beckert writes good economic history. But why cotton? Mr Beckert’s answer is that for 900 years, until 1900, it was the world’s most important manufacturing industry. Cotton is relevant now because the story explains how and why an industry goes global. It is a story of wildly fluctuating fortunes, from stunning wealth to dire social disasters. [more]
One of the most influential articles on the meaning of “fair use” is a 1996 Harvard Law Review article Toward a Fair Use Standard (PDF) by Pierre N. Leval, judge, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
The decision by Dallas police to deploy a robot to kill the man who shot and killed five officers last week appears to be unprecedented. Though the police chief said other options would have exposed officers to grave danger, the move fomented debate around the militarization of police and the ethical implications of remote-controlled use of force.
What considerations should guide the use of robots in policing? [more]
In an essay How to Cover the One Percent for the New York Review of Books, Michael Massing looks at how to report on the influence of the richest people.
The whole subject of private equity has been woefully undercovered. Firms like Carlyle, Blackstone, and KKR have been the main force behind the flood of mergers and acquisitions of recent years. News accounts have focused far more on the market effects of these deals than on their implications for employment, the concentration of wealth, and community welfare. Back in 2012, such factors were closely analyzed in connection with Mitt Romney’s work at the private equity company Bain Capital, but since then interest in private equity has waned even as the field has boomed. Naked Capitalism, an influential financial blog, recently ran a long post about how private equity companies “are far more obviously connected to an undue concentration of wealth at the expense of workers and communities” than are CDOs (collaterized debt obligations) and the other finance instruments that once drew such attention. Though the top one percent of the one percent “consists disproportionately of private equity and hedge fund principals,” the blog ruefully lamented, few of its readers seem interested. The same could be said of the press. A website on the nation’s power elite would pay close attention to the reach and impact of both private equity and hedge funds.
Remarkably, the Wall Street institution that may be the most powerful of them all is also among the least known. BlackRock is the largest money management firm in the world. Its chairman, Laurence Fink, oversees more money (about $4.5 trillion) than Germany has GDP. Fink regularly takes calls from governments and businesses from around the world seeking his advice and, as Susanne Craig reported in the Times in 2012, the company has exerted “enormous influence as a behind-the-scenes adviser to troubled governments” in places like Greece and Ireland. When seeking to analyze the health of a bank, the US Treasury Department often turns to BlackRock, leading a senior bank executive to call it (in an article in Vanity Fair) “the Blackwater of finance, almost a shadow government.” Fink himself is worth more than $300 million and sits on the boards of many institutions, including NYU and the Museum of Modern Art. Nonetheless he and his company have managed to escape serious journalistic scrutiny. A website on money and power could provide it.
Wall Street is hardly the only powerful precinct in need of sharper reporting. Hollywood is another. Coverage of it tends to be thin, with a heavy emphasis on ticket sales, executive rivalries, celebrity interviews, and awards ceremonies. Back in 2005, Bernard Weinraub, in a confessional reflection on the fourteen years he spent covering Hollywood for the Times, described how eagerly journalists sought access to stars and executives and how easily they were “co-opted by the overtures of a Michael Ovitz or the charm of a Joe Roth.”
That’s no less true today. Zenia Mucha, the head of communications for Walt Disney and a top adviser to its chairman, Robert Iger, is known for her skill at cajoling and browbeating reporters. As one journalist who covers the industry told me about Disney, “Almost no one writes a bad word about them so as to have access to top officials.” (He was not, of course, referring to film reviews.) Given the vastness of Disney’s holdings — they include Walt Disney Studios, the Disney Channel, Disney Resorts, Pixar, Lucasfilm, Marvel, ABC TV and News, ESPN, A&E, and Lifetime — assessing Mucha’s alleged success at shaping the news about the company would itself seem a subject worth pursuing.
Silicon Valley is in need of similar probing. [more]
In Unnatural Selection for the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert reports on the threats to the world’s coral reefs.
Coral reefs are often compared to cities, an analogy that captures both the variety and the density of life they support. The number of species that can be found on a small patch of healthy reef is probably greater than can be encountered in a similar amount of space anywhere else on Earth, including the Amazon rain forest. Researchers who once picked apart a single coral colony counted more than eight thousand burrowing creatures belonging to more than two hundred species. Using more sophisticated genetic-sequencing techniques, scientists recently looked to see how many species of crustaceans alone they could find. In one square metre at the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef, they came up with more than two hundred species — mostly crabs and shrimp — and in a similar-size stretch, at the southern end, they identified almost two hundred and thirty species. Extrapolating beyond crustaceans to fish and snails and sponges and octopuses and squid and sea squirts and on through the phyla, scientists estimate that reefs are home to at least a million and possibly as many as nine million species.
This diversity is even more remarkable in light of what might, to extend the urban metaphor, be called reefs’ environs. Tropical seas tend to be low in nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. Since most forms of life require nitrogen and phosphorus, tropical seas also tend to be barren; this explains why they’re often so marvellously clear. Ever since Darwin, scientists have been puzzled by how reefs support such richness under nutrient-poor conditions. The best explanation anyone has come up with is that on reefs — and here the metropolitan analogy starts to break down — all the residents enthusiastically recycle.
“In the coral city there is no waste,” Richard C. Murphy, a marine biologist who worked with Jacques Cousteau, has written. “The byproduct of every organism is a resource for another.” Corals are not only the architects of the system, they’re also the repairmen; without their ceaseless maintenance, there’s just “rapidly eroding rubble.” According to Roger Bradbury, an ecologist at Australia National University, if reefs were to disappear, the seas would look much as they did in Precambrian times, before fish had evolved. “It will be slimy,” he has observed. Worldwide, some five hundred million people rely on reefs for food, protection, income, or a combination of all three. Attaching a monetary value to these goods and services is difficult — some entire nations are composed of reefs — but estimates run as high as three hundred and seventy-five billion dollars a year. [more]
In Juarez Returns to Life, National Geographic reports that the Mexican border city, once one of the world’s most dangerous cities, is getting much safer.
From 2008 to 2012, the city of 1.3 million people was widely deemed the most dangerous place on Earth. Murders shot above 3,700 in the worst year. Criminals kidnapped and extorted with impunity. A quarter of all cars stolen in Mexico were stolen in Juárez. Businesses closed by the thousands. Anarchy descended.
The San Antonio neighborhood was among the worst. The boys now cavorting in the wrestling ring each had relatives killed or jailed….
Out in the colonias, or neighborhoods, at least 11 lucha libre rings now draw hundreds of kids donning personae such as Aztec Falcon and Ex-Convict. Juárez’s once empty streets are crowded again. Around the cathedral, clothing stores and Popsicle shops do a brisk business; cover bands play Spanish versions of “Johnny B. Goode” and “Jailhouse Rock” for shoppers who stop, listen, and dance. A children’s museum opened, aimed in part at the 14,000 who the museum’s director estimates were orphaned in the violence. Neighborhoods have organized sports leagues. Parks — including some new ones — are again places to socialize. “People are losing their fear,” Montenegro says.
What happened in Juárez to allow Montenegro and others to stop cowering and resume living? This is no wrestling melodrama in which a masked hero triumphs. Mexico found the political will, in Juárez at least, to strengthen the criminal justice system and invest in the local government. Doing so encouraged bravery from some unexpected protagonists: law enforcement officials who forged a more professional police force in a country where cops are often corrupt, businesspeople who stayed to fight rather than flee, and government officials who challenged the sclerotic bureaucracy and spearheaded dramatic reforms. [more]
In The Forgotten Streets for Foreign Policy magazine, Scott C. Johnson reports on Buenaventura, the city created by Columbia’s guerrilla war.
Buenaventura is often described as Colombia’s most violent city. Its homicide rate is 56 percent higher than the national average, and nine times that of New York City. An expansive port system has turned the city into the gateway for roughly 60 percent of Colombia’s imports and exports, but very little of the profits have trickled down to residents. In 2013, some 15 million tons of legal goods, along with untold quantities of illicit drugs and weapons, passed through Buenaventura. The mix of high-end development prospects, a strategic international port with easy access to Asia, Europe, and North America, and the city’s poverty — roughly 80 percent of the population is considered poor—has helped make Buenaventura a battleground for all sorts of competing interests, legitimate and criminal alike. Often called bacrim, for bandas criminales (criminal bands), … [groups] fight each other over drug-trafficking routes, but also for control of valuable waterfront property, which large companies are, in turn, eyeing for high-end development.
For decades, the Colombian government paid scant attention to the stretch of Pacific coastline where Buenaventura sits. With the exception of the port, the state largely abandoned these areas, leaving Buenaventura and its residents — mostly Afro-Colombian descendants of slaves — isolated and impoverished. Geographically separated from the rest of Colombia by the Andes Mountains, the city is a signature of government indifference and continues to lack the necessary infrastructure that could connect Buenaventura with the rest of the country.
In 2012, Colombia joined the Pacific Alliance, a trading bloc that includes Mexico, Peru, and Chile, whose principle aim is to aggressively pursue economic ties with Asia, in particular China. But when government officials presented Buenaventura as a location for a Pacific Alliance summit the following year — a Pacific gateway to South America, the city had the region’s largest port and could establish Colombia as a key player in the Pacific Alliance, the thinking went — the idea was shot down because the city was far too dangerous. The summit was ultimately held hundreds of miles away on the Caribbean, serving as a wake-up call for those intent on moving the country into the next century. Since then, President Juan Manuel Santos has worked with city officials to improve Buenaventura’s image by developing an aggressive plan to promote tourism and downtown development that includes a multimillion-dollar waterfront esplanade and luxury hotels. But the state of affairs in this city have made such an about-face nearly impossible.
Colombia faces serious obstacles as it struggles to put 50 years of conflict behind it, and economic renewal is just part of Santos’s plan to emerge intact from the guerrilla war that has pitted successive administrations against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by its Spanish acronym of FARC). Peace talks, which began in October 2012 and now continue in Havana, Cuba, could potentially put an end to Latin America’s longest-running conflict. But the problem is that, while the government is making progress on negotiations with the FARC, there are consequences of the war — seen most extremely in Buenaventura — that aren’t likely to be healed by the peace process. Years of fighting, combined with a largely absentee government, have turned Buenaventura into a kind of feral place in which … members of the bacrim — descendants of paramilitary groups that once fought the FARC — operate with impunity.
Unless Santos’s government can deliver, quickly, on promises to tend to the consequences wrought by years of neglect, Buenaventura is only likely to become more violent, with or without a national peace agreement. And that could be disastrous for Colombia’s long-term vision for its future. [more]
For now, with Congress paralyzed, changes are most likely to come through patchworks of court precedents. Here are four other questions courts have been grappling with that could reshape the digital world:
1. Do gig-economy companies have to hire workers as employees? Tan v. GrubHub Theonly thing growing faster than gig-economy companies may be the number of potential labor class actions being filed against them. More than a dozen such cases involve startups, and most allege “employee misclassification” — that the companies treat workers as contractors when they should be employees entitled to a minimum wage and overtime.
In April, Uber settled a class-action case in California for $84 million. The settlement allows the company to keep paying drivers as contractors and didn’t resolve the underlying issue. “The Valley wants clarity,” says Shannon Liss-Riordan, the lawyer at Lichten & Liss-Riordan who represented the drivers. She’s also filed lawsuits that might make for stronger cases. One involves food delivery service GrubHub, which treats workers who sign up for delivery shifts as contractors. [more]
In L’Etrangere, 1843 profiles Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s right-wing National Front party.
The politician who once compared Muslims praying in the streets in France to the Nazi occupation is fast emerging as the scariest, most redoubtable party leader in Europe. On a continent shaken by the double convulsions of Islamist terrorism and the greatest refugee influx in modern history, identity politics is marching back, and Le Pen is in the vanguard. Long before other leaders began to shut the doors and roll out barbed-wire fences, she denounced a borderless Europe and warned darkly of a “giant migratory wave” that would engulf the continent. Today, such troubles play straight into her hands, strengthening her appeal at home and her standing among right-wing nationalists abroad. She believes herself to be on a patriotic mission. She wants to defend a nostalgic version of France from an army of perceived threats — the euro, globalisation, competition, immigration and Islamism. “She is fighting for a sovereign, patriotic, free country,” says Florian Philippot, her closest lieutenant, who came to the party from the nationalist left. In the mind of bien-pensant French, however, Le Pen seeks nothing less than to overturn the liberal order in France and dismantle the post-war project of an integrated Europe.
Each time liberal politicians claim that her popularity has hit a ceiling, she shatters it. Back in 2002, her father, a classically educated former paratrooper who fought in Algeria and Indochina, shook France by making it into the final run-off of the presidential election, where he secured 18% of the vote against the Gaullist Jacques Chirac. She succeeded her father as leader of the party in 2011 and its popularity has risen steadily since. In elections last December in Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, a region more populous than Denmark, 41% voted for her. Her sights are now set on France’s presidential elections in 2017. Over the coming year, her mix of homespun nationalism, identity politics and star appeal will allow her to frame the public debate in France and beyond. It is a measure of the difficulty that politicians on the traditional right and left have in countering her message that the only near-certainty about next year’s presidential election is that she will be one of the two candidates on the ballot paper in the final run-off. She is exceedingly unlikely to win, but remains untroubled by that fact: she believes that her struggle is a long one, and that history is on her side. [more]
New research sounds a particularly disquieting note. A major evaluation of Tennessee’s publicly funded preschool system, published in September, found that although children who had attended preschool initially exhibited more “school readiness” skills when they entered kindergarten than did their non-preschool-attending peers, by the time they were in first grade their attitudes toward school were deteriorating. And by second grade they performed worse on tests measuring literacy, language, and math skills. The researchers told New York magazine that overreliance on direct instruction and repetitive, poorly structured pedagogy were likely culprits; children who’d been subjected to the same insipid tasks year after year after year were understandably losing their enthusiasm for learning.
That’s right. The same educational policies that are pushing academic goals down to ever earlier levels seem to be contributing to — while at the same time obscuring — the fact that young children are gaining fewer skills, not more. [more]
July 26th, 2016 in
Education, Research |
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