GQ - Cliven Bundy's War: Inside the Rancher's Independent Sovereign Republic 5-15min

Did you know there was a revolutionary war fought on American soil earlier this spring? It's true! Back in April, a small band of militiamen led by a rabble-rousing Nevada rancher named Cliven Bundy defeated the United States of America without firing a single shot. And so a brand-new country—sand-choked, heatstroked, and very heavily armed—was formed inside this one. GQ's Zach Baron spent a few days behind the borders of the fledgling republic and discovered that the uprising was the easy part ... Before the republic—that's what I'd been calling it in my head: the Independent Sovereign Republic of Cliven Bundy—this was a disused gravel pit. Now it's a sandy hospitality suite for the men who'd come to fight. American flags flap noisily above folding tables stacked with rifles, banana clips of ammunition, oranges and Milk Duds, nail clippers and pens, lens-cleaning wipes and tortillas. One guy sits on a folding chair cleaning a .50-caliber anti-vehicle rifle, a gun about as long as I am. Another guy, named Cooper, is telling me about the latrines. They'd had them brought in a week ago, but now Cooper, as one of the guys charged with running Tripwire, has to figure out how to get them emptied.

Research Affiliates - Financial Repression: Why It Matters < 5min

Financial repression refers to a set of governmental policies that keep real interest rates low or negative and regulate or manipulate a captive audience into investing in government debt. This results in cheap funding and will be a prime tool used by governments in highly indebted developed market economies to improve their balance sheets over the coming decades. … We should all be familiar with the effects of financial repression by now. If not, compare the declining amount of interest income coming out of your savings account to the rising costs you pay for groceries, gasoline, or (shield your eyes) college tuition. It has been nearly five years since we heard a loud “THUD” as the nominal yield of the short term U.S. Treasury note hit zero percent. The resulting negative real interest rates have become a pervasive feature of our economic landscape, and we expect them to persist for a very long time.

The Economist - America's government shutdown: No way to run a country < 5min

The Land of the Free is starting to look ungovernable. Enough is enough … America enjoys the “exorbitant privilege” of printing the world’s reserve currency. Its government debt is considered a safe haven, which is why Uncle Sam can borrow so much, so cheaply. America will not lose these advantages overnight. But anything that undermines its creditworthiness—as the farce in Washington surely does—risks causing untold damage in the future. It is not just that America would have to pay more to borrow. The repercussions of an American default would be both global and unpredictable. … It would threaten financial markets. Since American Treasuries are very liquid and safe, they are widely used as collateral. They are more than 30% of the collateral that financial institutions such as investment banks use to borrow in the $2 trillion “tri-party repo” market, a source of overnight funding. A default could trigger demands by lenders for more or different collateral; that might cause a financial heart attack like the one prompted by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. In short, even if Obamacare were as bad as tea-party types say it is (see Lexington), it would still be reckless to use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip to repeal it, as some Republicans suggest.

Popular Mechanics - Can America Turn Its Nuclear Power Back On? 5-15min

This is the face of nuclear development in the United States today: slow, over-budget, economically untenable. Yet the dream of a nuclear-powered society is still alive. Nationwide, we get about 20 percent of our electricity from nuclear. It produces the lion's share­ (64 percent) of our clean energy, provided that by "clean," you mean anything but fossil fuels. In addition to Watts Bar 2 there are four other reactors currently under construction in this country, signaling that perhaps America has a renewed interest in going nuclear. ... Look abroad and there's even more reason for nuclear advocates to be hopeful. China is leading a renaissance in nuclear energy: Today that country gets only 2.5 percent of its electricity from nuclear, but it has 21 reactors under construction, more in the works, and a growing business selling reactors to countries like Pakistan, Argentina, and the United Kingdom. This vigor marks a level of nuclear investment the world has not seen since the heyday of American atomic enthusiasm, when 58 reactors came online between 1965 and 1980. ... What happens next depends on whether nuclear boosters can solve the three key problems that have plagued American nuclear power, and left places like Watts Bar in perpetual limbo. ... nuclear power plants can generate tremendous amounts of energy. But while it's expensive to develop any kind of energy infrastructure, the cost of nuclear energy has not fallen over time. There is no Moore's Law in play here. ... Not only are China's reactors using a standardized design with some modular parts, but the entire construction process is performed by a dedicated crew that travels from reactor site to reactor site.

Bloomberg - Who Owns The Sun? 5-15min

Warren Buffett controls Nevada’s legacy utility. Elon Musk is behind the solar company that’s upending the market. Let the fun begin. ... SolarCity’s success is partly because the government provides subsidies and enables an arrangement called net metering, which allows homeowners with panels to sell back to the grid any solar energy they don’t use. This helps offset their cost of power when the sun’s not shining. Like more than 40 other U.S. states, Nevada forces utilities to buy the excess energy at rates set by regulators—usually the same rate utilities charge (hence, the net in net metering). In Nevada, it’s worked well. So well, in fact, that NV Energy, the state’s largest utility, is fighting it with everything it’s got. ... In just a decade, solar has gone from an enviro’s dream to a serious lobby that will be fighting these kinds of battles nationwide for years. ... Power companies may not be winning any popularity contests, but they’re developing their own renewable energy to keep up with changing attitudes and to meet state mandates.

ProPublica - Liquid Assets 5-15min

Since 1960, tens of millions of people have migrated toward the Pacific, settling in Las Vegas and Tempe and Boulder. Denver has tripled in size. Phoenix, having added some 3.6 million people, has more than quintupled. Today, one in eight Americans depends on water from the Colorado River system, and about 15 percent of the nation’s crops are grown with it. ... the demands on the river were never sustainable. In 1922, the seven states in the Colorado River watershed signed a compact dividing its water. With little historical data, they calculated the river’s capacity after a decade of unusually wet conditions. ... Since the current drought began, in 2000, that shortfall has averaged 25 percent. Instead of adjusting their allotments, states have drawn down the nation’s largest reservoirs, which are quickly draining. Even this winter’s El Niño weather pattern won’t bring enough rain to restore the region’s supply ... To determine who gets water and who doesn’t, states rely on a system that originated more than 150 years ago—when water was plentiful and people were scarce. ... “prior appropriation,” which promised rights to use a share of water based on who got there first. ... Prior appropriation became the foundation of western water law, and it established order in the West. Today, though, state water laws are largely to blame for the crippling shortages. Because water rights were divvied up at a time when few cities existed west of the Mississippi, some 80 percent of the region’s water goes to farmers, leaving insufficient supplies for growing cities and industries. And farmers must put all their water to “beneficial use” or risk losing their allotment—a rule that was originally intended to prevent hoarding but that today can encourage waste. Many farmers have not adopted modern technology that can cut water use by up to 50 percent, in part because they need to protect their water rights. ... Allowing people to buy and sell water rights is a more expedient way to redistribute the West’s water, he argues. Waste would be discouraged, water would shift to where it’s needed most, and farmers would be compensated. ... The West would have plenty of water if people used it more wisely: Most of the region’s supply goes to growing low-value, water-intensive crops such as hay and alfalfa—in many cases in the desert.

The Guardian - The sugar conspiracy 5-15min

We read almost every week of new research into the deleterious effects of sugar on our bodies. In the US, the latest edition of the government’s official dietary guidelines includes a cap on sugar consumption. In the UK, the chancellor George Osborne has announced a new tax on sugary drinks. Sugar has become dietary enemy number one. ... This represents a dramatic shift in priority. For at least the last three decades, the dietary arch-villain has been saturated fat. When Yudkin was conducting his research into the effects of sugar, in the 1960s, a new nutritional orthodoxy was in the process of asserting itself. Its central tenet was that a healthy diet is a low-fat diet. Yudkin led a diminishing band of dissenters who believed that sugar, not fat, was the more likely cause of maladies such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. But by the time he wrote his book, the commanding heights of the field had been seized by proponents of the fat hypothesis. Yudkin found himself fighting a rearguard action, and he was defeated. ... In 1980, after long consultation with some of America’s most senior nutrition scientists, the US government issued its first Dietary Guidelines. The guidelines shaped the diets of hundreds of millions of people. Doctors base their advice on them, food companies develop products to comply with them. Their influence extends beyond the US. ... We tend to think of heretics as contrarians, individuals with a compulsion to flout conventional wisdom. But sometimes a heretic is simply a mainstream thinker who stays facing the same way while everyone around him turns 180 degrees. When, in 1957, John Yudkin first floated his hypothesis that sugar was a hazard to public health, it was taken seriously, as was its proponent. By the time Yudkin retired, 14 years later, both theory and author had been marginalised and derided. Only now is Yudkin’s work being returned, posthumously, to the scientific mainstream.

New York Magazine - Democracies end when they are too democratic. 5-15min

Plato, of course, was not clairvoyant. His analysis of how democracy can turn into tyranny is a complex one more keyed toward ancient societies than our own (and contains more wrinkles and eddies than I can summarize here). His disdain for democratic life was fueled in no small part by the fact that a democracy had executed his mentor, Socrates. And he would, I think, have been astonished at how American democracy has been able to thrive with unprecedented stability over the last couple of centuries even as it has brought more and more people into its embrace. It remains, in my view, a miracle of constitutional craftsmanship and cultural resilience. There is no place I would rather live. But it is not immortal, nor should we assume it is immune to the forces that have endangered democracy so many times in human history. ... Part of American democracy’s stability is owed to the fact that the Founding Fathers had read their Plato. ... Many contend, of course, that American democracy is actually in retreat, close to being destroyed by the vastly more unequal economy of the last quarter-century and the ability of the very rich to purchase political influence. This is Bernie Sanders’s core critique. But the past few presidential elections have demonstrated that, in fact, money from the ultrarich has been mostly a dud. ... The evidence suggests that direct democracy, far from being throttled, is actually intensifying its grip on American politics. ... it is precisely because of the great accomplishments of our democracy that we should be vigilant about its specific, unique vulnerability: its susceptibility, in stressful times, to the appeal of a shameless demagogue.

Oaktree - Economic Reality 5-15min

Since we’re in the midst of election season, with promises of cures for our economic woes being thrown around, this seems like a particularly appropriate time to explore what can and can’t be achieved within the laws of economics. Those laws might not work 100% of the time the way physical laws do, but they generally tend to define the range of outcomes. It’s my goal here to point out how some of the things that central banks and governments try to do – and election candidates promise to do – fly in the face of those laws. ... Let’s start with central banks’ attempts to achieve monetary stimulus. When central banks want to help economies grow, they take actions such as reducing the interest rates they charge on loans to banks or, more recently, buying assets (“quantitative easing”). In theory, both of these will add to the funds in circulation and encourage economic activity. The lower rates are, and the more money there is in circulation, the more likely people and businesses will be to borrow, spend and invest. These things will make the economy more vibrant. ... But there’s a catch. Central bankers can’t create economic progress they can only stimulate activity temporarily. ... In the long term, these things are independent of the amount of money in circulation or the rate of interest. The level of economic activity is determined by the nation’s productiveness. ... Much of what central banks do consists of making things happen today that otherwise would happen sometime in the future. ... the truth is, this “tyranny of the majority” is an unhealthy development. First, society does better when able members have strong incentive to contribute. Second, upward aspiration and mobility will be constrained when taxes become confiscatory. Finally, taxpayers aren’t necessarily powerless in the face of rising tax rates.

Popular Mechanics - How the U.S. Patent Office Got So Screwed Up 5-15min

Starting in the early 2000s, the rights and protections conferred by a U.S. patent have eroded to the point that they are weaker today than at any time since the Great Depression. A series of Supreme Court decisions and then the most important patent-reform legislation in sixty years, signed into law in 2011, have made it so. The stated purpose of the reform has been to exterminate so-called patent trolls—those entities that own patents (sometimes many thousands of them) and engage in no business other than suing companies for patent infringement. The reforms have had their desired effect. It has become harder for trolls to sue. But they've made it harder for people with legitimate cases, people like Norred, to sue, too. ... According to many inventors, entrepreneurs, legal scholars, judges, and former and current USPTO officials, the altered patent system harms the independent, entrepreneurial, garage-and-basement inventors, who loom as large in our national mythology as the pilgrim and the pioneer.

Rolling Stone - Zika: The Epidemic at America's Door 5-15min

Of the 1,301 mosquito-borne cases recorded in the U.S., 97 percent of them are in Puerto Rico, neither a state nor a sovereign nation, but whose people are, nonetheless, U.S. citizens. As of early June, the start of Puerto Rico's long, hot and rainy summer, there are 1,259 recorded cases on the island, though some health officials believe the true number may be more than 80,000. ... unlike Ebola, which causes gruesome symptoms often followed by death, Zika is somewhat of a stealth virus. Most people infected will have no symptoms. Some may come down with conjunctivitis or break out in a skin rash, or experience muscle or joint pain or run a fever. Within a week or so, all of the symptoms, if they even emerged, are gone. In a certain number of cases, however, this may only be the beginning. ... the CDC estimates that it could cost $10 million to care for one microcephalic child. Zika, which seems to be particularly drawn to neurological tissue, may also cause swelling of the brain or spinal cord in adults, and has been linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune neurological condition that can cause severe, if usually temporary, paralysis. ... But the scariest aspect of Zika is how little scientists actually know about it. ... Zika was first discovered in 1947 in the Zika Forest of Uganda, where researchers were studying the impact of mosquito-borne viruses on rhesus monkeys. Over the next 60 years, there were only 14 documented cases of Zika in humans, mainly in Africa and parts of southern Asia. ... given the prevalence of a host of factors, ranging from effective sanitation to the ubiquity of window screens and air conditioning, this kind of outbreak anywhere in the continental U.S., and much of Europe, for that matter, is unlikely.

Wired - The Polls Are All Wrong. A Startup Called Civis Is Our Best Hope to Fix Them 15min

The US polling industry has been suffering a crisis of insight over the past decade or so; its methods have become increasingly bad at telling which way America is leaning. ... The classic pollster’s technique known as random digit dialing, in which firms robo-dial phone after phone, is failing, because an ever-dwindling number of people have landlines. ... whereas a survey in the 1970s or 1980s might have achieved a 70 percent response rate, by 2012 that number had fallen to 5.5 percent, and in 2016 it’s headed toward an infinitesimal 0.9 percent. And finally, the demographics of participants are narrowing: An elderly white woman is 21 times more likely to answer a phone poll than a young Hispanic male. So polling samples are often inherently misrepresentative. ... Today’s polling landscape appears so fraught that Gallup, long the industry leader, opted out of presidential horse-race polls this year; the reputational risk of being wrong was simply too high. Civis, on the other hand, promises a paradigm that could rescue American politics from confusion. ... Today, campaigns realize they have to look elsewhere for their intelligence, which has caused a major change in how the political industry functions. In the past, an entire campaign’s data and infrastructure would go poof after Election Day. Now Civis and similar firms are building institutional memory with permanent information store­houses that track America’s 220 million–odd voters across their adult lives, noting everything from magazine subscriptions and student loans to voting history, marital status, Facebook ID, and Twitter handle. Power and clients flow to the firms that can build and maintain the best databases of people’s behavior over time.

Consumer Reports - Supplements Can Make You Sick 12min

The problem stretches well beyond one tainted probiotic. Dietary supplements—vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, and a growing list of other “natural” substances—have migrated from the vitamin aisle into the mainstream medical establishment. Hospitals are not only including supplements in their formularies (their lists of approved medication), they’re also opening their own specialty supplement shops on-site and online. Some doctors are doing the same. According to a Gallup survey of 200 physicians, 94 percent now recommend vitamins or minerals to some of their patients; 45 percent have recommended herbal supplements as well. And 7 percent are not only recommending supplements but actually selling them in their offices. ... Consumers are buying those products in droves. According to the Nutrition Business Journal, supplement sales have increased by 81 percent in the past decade. The uptick is easy to understand: Supplements are easier to get than prescription drugs, and they carry the aura of being more natural and thus safer. Their labels often promise to address health issues for which there are few easy solutions. ... It’s tough to say what portion of those products pose a risk to consumers. A 2013 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that from 2008 through 2011, the FDA received 6,307 reports of health problems from dietary supplements, including 92 deaths, hundreds of life-threatening conditions, and more than 1,000 serious injuries or illnesses. The GAO suggests that due to underreporting, the real number of incidents may be far greater.

Bloomberg - An Immigrant-Funded Biotech Center in Rural Vermont? What Could Go Wrong? 13min

Jay Peak had consisted only of a ski area and a roach-ridden lodge. Now it had three hotels, six restaurants, some 200 cottages, an indoor water park, an ice rink, a spa, and a convention center, all tended to by 600 employees. The $280 million transformation had been made possible by a U.S. government program known as EB-5, which allows prospective immigrants to invest $500,000 in hard-up areas in exchange for temporary residency for themselves and their families. Anyone whose investment creates 10 jobs can then become a permanent resident. The only faster way to become an American is to marry one. ... The EB-5 program has opened up all sorts of possibilities since it was started in 1990—mischief, abuse, and fraud among them. Initially it required investors to put in $1 million and show direct evidence that the money had led to those 10 new jobs. But after two years, Congress modified the program to encourage investment in rural and underdeveloped areas, permitting prospective immigrants to invest less money in projects and count “indirect” jobs estimated by economic models. ... These projects get sponsored by federally approved regional centers, which serve as economic-development organizations drawing on EB-5 money. There are now 861 such centers, all of which—except for Vermont’s—are privately run. ... The tangled financing they’d uncovered left more than half of the 731 foreigners who had placed their money with Stenger and Quiros vulnerable to deportation, and threw $83 million that had been invested in the biotech project into limbo.

The Guardian - Venezuela on the brink: a journey through a country in crisis 9min

With greater oil reserves than Saudi Arabia, Venezuela should be at least moderately prosperous. Instead, it has the world’s fastest contracting economy, the second highest murder rate, inflation heading towards 1,000% and shortages of food and medicine that have pushed the poorest members of its 30 million population to the edge of a humanitarian abyss. ... It takes just five minutes to cross from the porous border at Pacaraima. Locals say the government in Caracas lifted food import tariffs from Brazil two months ago in a sign both of its desperation to ease shortages and its weakening control over the economy. There is now a steady stream of traders buying sacks of rice, sugar, wheat and spaghetti for resale in Venezuela. ... Life could be made easier if the authorities printed notes with higher denominations than 100 Bolivars, which is worth less than 8p, or 10 cents. But the central bank appears reluctant to make a move that would confirm a level of hyperinflation not seen in Latin America since the crises in Brazil and Argentina in the 1980s and 1990s. As a result, locals have to pay for everything in the equivalent of dimes. Even when made of paper, that can be cumbersome and heavy. ... The government’s tendency to subsidise many products below the cost of production is a major reason why the economy is in such a mess. ... Even in the midst of crisis, the government still hands out free or massively discounted homes, cars, DVD players and microwave ovens.

Bloomberg - Grass Warfare in L.A. 13min

Dead grass became a point of pride as state officials rolled out ad campaigns with slogans like “brown is the new green” and “going golden this summer.” With-it wealthier residents signaled their savvy by investing in beautiful, though dusty, re-landscaped eco-havens of olive trees, white-flowered chamise shrubs, and California golden violets with, perhaps, paths of decomposed granite wending through them. ... Turf Terminators, started by twentysomething entrepreneurs, pitched itself to people like Goldfarb who wanted to conserve but couldn’t afford to pay a landscape architect four or five figures. In less than two years, the company removed 16 million square feet of grass from 12,000 lawns. During that time, Turf Terminators was the veritable face of water-saving landscaping in and around Los Angeles, praised by government officials and some customers for providing a fast, affordable way to get rid of grass. ... The company’s short but profitable life span serves as an instructional fable for other cities that will inevitably face climate change-related infrastructure problems. The takeaway: Solutions are rarely simple or easy, so do a lot of research before throwing public money at the issues.

The New York Times - Why Isn’t the U.S. Better at Predicting Extreme Weather? 12min

Mass, who is 64, has become the most widely recognized critic of weather forecasting in the United States — and specifically the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which manages the National Weather Service and its underling agencies, including the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, where the nation’s weather models are run. Mass argues that these models are significantly flawed in comparison with commercial and European alternatives. American forecasting also does poorly at data assimilation, the process of integrating information about atmospheric conditions into modeling programs; in the meantime, a lack of available computing power precludes the use of more advanced systems already operating at places like the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, based in Reading, England. And there are persistent management challenges, perhaps best represented by the legions of NOAA scientists whose innovations remain stranded in research labs and out of the hands of the National Weather Service operational forecasters who make the day-to-day predictions in 122 regional offices around the country. ... accuracy is everything, often the difference between life and death, given that extreme weather ... Industries like shipping, energy, agriculture and utilities lose money when predictions fail. Even slightly more precise wind-speed projections would help airlines greatly reduce fuel costs. ... the Weather Service interface was so primitive — the protocol was originally designed for the telegraph — it could only accommodate uppercase type.

Wired - Inside the Cyberattack That Shocked the US Government 12min

The Office of Personnel Management repels 10 million attempted digital intrusions per month—mostly the kinds of port scans and phishing attacks that plague every large-scale Internet presence—so it wasn’t too abnormal to discover that something had gotten lucky and slipped through the agency’s defenses. In March 2014, for example, OPM had detected a breach in which blueprints for its network’s architecture were siphoned away. But in this case, the engineers noticed two unusually frightening details. First, had been registered on April 25, 2014, which meant the malware had probably been on OPM’s network for almost a year. Even worse, the domain’s owner was listed as “Steve Rogers”—the scrawny patriot who, according to Marvel Comics lore, used a vial of Super-Soldier Serum to transform himself into Captain America, a member of the Avengers. ... Registering sites in Avengers-themed names is a trademark of a shadowy hacker group believed to have orchestrated some of the most devastating attacks in recent memory. Among them was the infiltration of health insurer Anthem, which resulted in the theft of personal data belonging to nearly 80 million Americans. And though diplomatic sensitivities make US officials reluctant to point fingers, a wealth of evidence ranging from IP addresses to telltale email accounts indicates that these hackers are tied to China, whose military allegedly has a 100,000-strong cyber­espionage division. ... To figure out why the hackers had trained their sights on OPM, investigators would have to determine what, if anything, had been stolen from the agency’s network over the preceding year. But first they had to hunt down and eliminate the malware on its network, an archaic monstrosity that consisted of as many as 15,000 individual machines.

The Guardian - The cult of the expert – and how it collapsed 17min

At some point towards the middle of the decade, shortly before the cult of the expert smashed into the populist backlash, the shocking power of central banks came to feel normal. Nobody blinked an eye when Haruhiko Kuroda, the head of Japan’s central bank, created money at a rate that made his western counterparts seem timid. Nobody thought it strange when Britain’s government, perhaps emulating the style of the national football team, conducted a worldwide talent search for the new Bank of England chief. ... nobody missed a beat when India’s breathless journalists described Raghuram Rajan, the new head of the Reserve Bank of India, as a “rock star”, or when he was pictured as James Bond in the country’s biggest business newspaper. ... The key to the power of the central bankers – and the envy of all the other experts – lay precisely in their ability to escape political interference. ... The call to empower experts, and to keep politics to a minimum, failed to trigger a clear shift in how Washington did business. But it did crystallise the assumptions of the late 1990s and early 2000s – a time when sharp criticisms of gridlock and lobbying were broadly accepted, and technocratic work-arounds to political paralysis were frequently proposed, even if seldom adopted. ... If the clashes of abstractions – communism, socialism, capitalism and so on –were finished, all that remained were practical questions, which were less subjects of political choice and more objects of expert analysis. ... Greenspan’s genius was to combine high-calibre expert analysis with raw political methods. He had more muscle than a mere expert and more influence than a mere politician. The combination was especially potent because the first could be a cover for the second: his political influence depended on the perception that he was an expert, and therefore above the fray, and therefore not really political.

The Economist - Technology Quarterly: A sudden light 32min

Next year it will be 60 years since people first witnessed the majesty of a satellite being launched into orbit: Sputnik 1, hurled into the night sky in Kazakhstan early on October 5th 1957. ... Just 15 years separated the launch of the first satellite and the return of the last man from the moon, years in which anything seemed possible. But having won the space race, America saw no benefit in carrying on. Instead it developed a space shuttle meant to make getting to orbit cheap, reliable and routine. More than 100 shuttle flights between 1981 to 2011 went some way to realising the last of those goals, despite two terrible accidents. The first two were never met. Getting into space remained a risky and hideously expensive proposition, taken up only by governments and communications companies, each for their own reasons. ... New rockets, though, are not the only exciting development. The expense of getting into space during the 1980s and 1990s led some manufacturers to start shrinking the satellites used for some sorts of mission, creating “smallsats”. Since then the amount a given size of satellite can do has been boosted by developments in computing and electronics. This has opened up both new ways of doing old jobs and completely novel opportunities. ... No single technology ties together this splendid gaggle of ambitions. But there is a common technological approach that goes a long way to explaining it; that of Silicon Valley. Even if for now most of the money being spent in space remains with old government programmes and incumbent telecom providers, space travel is moving from the world of government procurement and aerospace engineering giants to the world of venture-capital-funded startups and business plans that rely on ever cheaper services provided to ever more customers.

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The New Yorker - Venezuela, A Failing State 34min

The medical student told me to use his name. He said he didn’t care. “Maduro is a donkey,” he said. “An a**hole.” He meant Nicolás Maduro, the President of Venezuela. We were passing through the wards of a large public hospital in Valencia, a city of roughly a million people, a hundred miles west of Caracas. The hallways were dim and stifling, thick with a frightening stench. ... Why were hospitals so heavily guarded? Nobody threatened to invade them. The guards had orders, it was said, to keep out journalists. Exposés had embarrassed the government. ... For decades, the country had been ruled by two centrist parties that took turns winning elections but were increasingly out of touch with voters. A move to impose fiscal austerity was rejected, in 1989, with a mass revolt and countrywide looting—a paroxysm known as the Caracazo—which was put down by the Army at a cost of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives. Chávez was an Army lieutenant colonel, from a humble background—his parents were village schoolteachers. He crashed the national stage in 1992, by leading a military-coup attempt. The coup failed, and Chávez went to jail, but his televised declarations of noble intent caught the imaginations of many Venezuelans. He offered a charismatic alternative to the corrupt, sclerotic status quo. After his release, he headed a small leftist party and easily won the Presidency. ... He soon rewrote the constitution, concentrating power in the executive. ... After Chávez barely survived a 2002 coup attempt, the Cubans also sent teams of military and intelligence advisers who taught their Venezuelan counterparts how to surveil and disrupt the political opposition Cuban-style, with close monitoring, harassment, and strategic arrests. ... Polar employs about thirty thousand workers (it is the country’s largest private employer) and is responsible for more than three per cent of Venezuela’s non-oil gross domestic product. Besides corn flour and the country’s top-selling beer, Polar produces pasta, rice, tuna fish, wine, ice cream, yogurt, margarine, ketchup, mayonnaise, and detergent. Yet it operates in an atmosphere of continual uncertainty, its planners and logistics mavens never sure what roadblock or subterfuge the government will toss up next. ... The crisis has a small but crucial constituency, starting with the generals and other high government officials who are thriving financially, mainly through smuggling, graft, and import fraud.

The Atlantic - China’s Great Leap Backward 18min

Instead the question is whether something basic has changed in the direction of China’s evolution, and whether the United States needs to reconsider its China policy. For the more than 40 years since the historic Nixon-Mao meetings of the early 1970s, that policy has been surprisingly stable. From one administration to the next, it has been built on these same elements: ever greater engagement with China; steady encouragement of its modernization and growth; forthright disagreement where the two countries’ economic interests or political values clash; and a calculation that Cold War–style hostility would be far more damaging than the difficult, imperfect partnership the two countries have maintained. ... The China of 2016 is much more controlled and repressive than the China of five years ago, or even 10. ... Dealing with China is inescapable. It is becoming more difficult, and might get harder still. ... the assumption was that year by year, the distance between practices in China and those in other developed countries would shrink, and China would become easier rather than harder to deal with.

Bloomberg - We Found Your Last Smartphone, Next to Your Old VCR 15min

Smash an old TV, and you risk spewing lead into the air. Crack open an LCD flatscreen, and you can release mercury vapor. Mobile phones and computers can contain dangerous heavy metals such as cadmium and toxic flame retardants. Mexican workplace regulations, like those in the U.S., require e-waste shops to provide such safety equipment as goggles, hard hats, and masks. There’s little of that in Renovación. ... In much of the world, a place like Renovación couldn’t exist, and not only because business owners wouldn’t be allowed to employ people in those conditions. Twenty-five U.S. states and Washington, D.C., home to 210 million Americans, have laws establishing what’s known as extended producer responsibility, or EPR. That means electronics makers must collect, recycle, and dispose of discarded equipment rather than allow it to enter the waste stream. Parts of Europe also have this system. ... Manufacturers don’t do this work themselves. Typically, a state, county, or town establishes an e-waste collection program. Then recycling companies come to haul away the junk. The manufacturers pay some or all of the bill. The e-waste can be of any provenance. ... The lack of a formal, regulated recycling industry is one of many reasons Mexico has become a magnet for spent electronics. ... A ton of mobile phone circuit boards can produce 30 ounces of gold, worth about $39,000 at current prices.

Vanity Fair - How A Grad Student Found Spyware That Could Control Anybody’s iPhone From Anywhere In The World 22min

There was a time, a few years back, when the most sophisticated cyber-warfare tools were still developed and used exclusively by the world’s most sophisticated cyber-warfare combatants: government spy agencies, such as the ultra-secret National Security Agency and its counterparts in Israel and other developed countries and their arch-rivals in China and Russia. The surveillance and monitoring capabilities that Edward Snowden unveiled to the world in 2013 were shocking and little understood, but an ordinary citizen could at least take comfort in the belief that, if he wasn’t a criminal or a spy, it was unlikely these tools would ever be used against him. ... That was then. ... last August, came the startling confirmation from Apple itself: a genuine remote jailbreak “in the wild,” the one discovered and identified by Marczak and the Lookout researchers. To everyone’s surprise it had been out there operating secretly for years. ... By 2010 a true black market for zero days was emerging beyond the usual black market. ... In this new black market few knew exactly who the buyers were, but it was widely assumed that many were governments looking for clever new ways to spy on their own citizenry.

Aspen Institute - American Prosperity Project: A Nonpartisan Framework for Long-Term Investment 20min

America’s economic health depends on sustained, long-term investment to support our families and communities and to reinvigorate the economic engine that creates jobs and prosperity. There is no viable model under which either business or government can or should shoulder the responsibility for long-term investment alone; both are required. ... The time is right for a national conversation about long-term investment in infrastructure, basic science, education and training for workers who feel the brunt of globalization and technology. We need to focus on the critical levers for economic growth along with sources of revenue to help pay for it, as well as ways to overcome the short-term thinking currently baked into government policy and business protocols. … The ideas offered here have been developed under the auspices of the Aspen Institute in consultation with a non-partisan working group of experts in public policy formation, tax and regulation, business, and corporate law and governance. While these ideas enjoy support across party lines, breaking the log jam and taking action will require a coalition of leaders across the private and public sectors who are committed to the health of the commons and America’s prosperity.