A Round of Memorable Op-Eds This Week

While I've been around the clock a number of times with some of the most astute and compelling pieces of journalism across publishers this week, I wanted to shine a light on a few notable opinion editorials for the weekend. These aren't overly long, and they're stitched together thematically around the challenges of U.S. leadership and its commitment to democratic policy in the world today.

The Atlantic

While drenched in superlatives, Yoni Appelbaum's piece titled Is the American Idea Over?, one of the headliners in the latest Atlantic issue, covers a range of survey points and perspective on the U.S.'s role in the world today, and how its population is reckoning with it.

It is no surprise that younger Americans have lost faith in a system that no longer seems to deliver on its promise—and yet, the degree of their disillusionment is stunning. Nearly three-quarters of Americans born before the Second World War assign the highest value—10 out of 10—to living in a democracy; less than a third of those born since 1980 do the same. A quarter of the latter group say it’s unimportant to choose leaders in free elections; just shy of a third think civil rights are needed to protect people’s liberties. Americans are not alone; much of western Europe is similarly disillusioned.

But most notable (and agreeable) is the reality that true democracy is fragile, an ever-escalating balancing act of security, freedom, opportunity, and tolerance of differences:

The greatest danger facing American democracy is complacence. The democratic experiment is fragile, and its continued survival improbable. Salvaging it will require enlarging opportunity, restoring rights, and pursuing equality, and thereby renewing faith in the system that delivers them. This, really, is the American idea: that prosperity and justice do not exist in tension, but flow from each other. Achieving that ideal will require fighting as if the fate of democracy itself rests upon the struggle—because it does.

The Economist

America’s global influence has dwindled under Donald Trump

On trade, [Donald Trump] remains wedded to a zero-sum view of the world, in which exporters “win” and importers “lose”. (Are the buyers of Ivanka Trump-branded clothes and handbags, which are made in Asia, losers?) Mr Trump has made clear that he favours bilateral deals over multilateral ones, because that way a big country like America can bully small ones into making concessions. The trouble with this approach is twofold. First, it is deeply unappealing to small countries, which by the way also have protectionist lobbies to overcome. Second, it would reproduce the insanely complicated mishmash of rules that the multilateral trade system was created to simplify and trim. The Trump team probably will not make a big push to disrupt global trade until tax reform has passed through Congress. But when and if that happens, all bets are off—NAFTA is still in grave peril.

The New York Times

If you haven't first read anything about the Paradise Papers, it's essential reading for the weekend. In a follow-up op-ed, Gabriel Zucman noodles on how we can enact policy to stop corporations and the wealthy from avoiding taxes in havens around the world:

The United States loses, according to my estimates, close to $70 billion a year in tax revenue due to the shifting of corporate profits to tax havens. That’s close to 20 percent of the corporate tax revenue that is collected each year. This is legal.

Meanwhile, an estimated $8.7 trillion, 11.5 percent of the entire world’s G.D.P., is held offshore by ultrawealthy households in a handful of tax shelters, and most of it isn’t being reported to the relevant tax authorities. This is… not so legal.

These figures represent a huge loss of resources that, if collected, could be used to cut taxes on the rest of us, or spent on social programs to help people in our societies.

Weekend Reading List - Hope Amidst the Darkness

Round-up for March 11-12

Machine Bias: ProPublica's ongoing investigation into machine/data-driven usage for criminal risk assessments and crime predictions.

What should you think about when using Facebook?: Facebook logs drafts of posts/keystrokes before you post, or even if you don't post.

Apple says it’s already patched ‘many’ iOS vulnerabilities identified in WikiLeaks’ CIA dump Title says it all, but it’s a hopeful reassurance that Apple has detected and patched many of the alleged CIA exploits brought forth in the Wikileaks unraveling.

Your Own Facts: A great essay/book review on the “filter bubbles” we continue to create ourselves or sign up for with external apps and services. Essentially, author Eli Pariser argues that “this is not to deny that Silicon Valley engineers […] have responsibilities that extend far beyond their job descriptions. But their modest quests to improve relevance, alleviate information overload and suggest books that may interest us — rather than to engage in algorithmic paternalism and assume a more critical social role — may be the lesser of two evils”.

Internet Censorship and What We’re Doing About It: A leading encryption-based email service provides a rundown of why we should care about internet censorship, and what some of its plans are in terms of helping the wider world. Of course, this is leading up to a release later this summer of their ProtonVPN service, set to compete against other VPNs (virtual private networks) that can assist in black boxing your internet traffic and behaviors.

Weekend Reading List

Round-up for March 4-5

New Bill Would Force NYPD to Disclose Surveillance Tech Playbook: Though not as pressing as other privacy disclosures, this is a timely local-level one that could predicate other states/cities following a similar line. What's notable here is that we are all essentially under a watchful eye from city security cameras, other citizen's cameras, and a myriad of tactics alluded to in the bill (including facial recognization). The New York Civil Liberties Union's statement on this being "critical to democracy" is rather obvious.

How to Keep Messages Secure: Friendly rundown of why teens (ahem, anyone) should avoid using popular chatting apps like Snapchat, et al, for serious communication or for chatting at all. Surprising editorial source, too.

Is There a Business Model For Serious Journalism in the Age of Trump?: Comprehensive analysis on the state of serious journalism.

Smart Condom to Track Your Sex: Here we go with another invasive Internet of Things product. At this point we're just turning ourselves into constantly-monitored subject matter for government, medicinal, and corporate overlords.

Government's Privacy Watchdog is Basically Dead, Emails Reveal: Should we have seen this one coming? "[T]he agency, known as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, is down to just a single voting member — which means it has been stripped of nearly all its powers, according to emails obtained by The Intercept." Important to note: it appears that this didn't start with Trump, and it's been "been withering away for almost a year."

That Free Health Tracker Could Cost You: Handing out Fitbits is something my agency recently did, and I've seen a number of health insurance providers do the same thing -- not sure if all circumstances are leading to more risk pooling bullshit, but this is certainly where it starts.

Want to Improve Data Quality, Reduce Liability, and Gain Consumer Trust? Try Deleting: In its latest white paper, CDT "explores th[e] disconnect and the reasons why commercial data stores have grown. We make the case that it is neither in a company’s nor a customer’s best interest to hold onto large amounts of data." Deleting old, unusable, or irrelevant data is absolutely a consideration to make, especially if you don't plan to use it anymore.