I don't always have thoughts in my head, but when I do, I put them here

What we can do to change TPP

Since WikiLeaks released documents revealing secret trade negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership between the US, East Asia, and other Pacific Rim nations in 2013, response from stakeholders and policy organizations has escalated. Now, congress is ready to grant President Obama Trade Promotion Authority (also called fast track authority) to give the White House greater negotiation power to finalize a deal.

TPP has gained notoriety as a much lamented agreement that involves revitalizing and revolutionizing trade agreements between signatories covering many industries, and will especially affect service and labor. As part of his pivot towards Asia, the deal comprises 40% of the global economy and is the Obama administration's flagship trade deal, arguably the most important globalization effort since NAFTA.

Conducting a negotiation in secret is hardly the way to get stakeholders, much less the general public, on board with your agenda. Moreover, globalization efforts rarely generate public support, and this particular endeavor in a post-WikiLeaks world has drawn widespread skepticism.


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What the Nigerian Elections Mean a Year After #BringBackOurGirls

Nigeria. Photo Credit: Barefoot in Florida

Two weeks after Muhammadu Buhari was elected president, the world remembers a year's passing since 200 school girls were abducted in Chibok in northern Nigeria. His pledge as the leader of West Africa's powerhouse is to combat both the Muslim insurgency spearheaded by Boko Haram and corruption which has plagued the country since its independence and especially since the discovery of oil some 50 years ago.

He has his work cut out for him, but his first success has been the peaceful transition of power from the opposition party, a first for the country.

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Russia Hosting Syrian Negotiations: Implications for the West

Russia Kremlin Wikimedia Commons

While the US and its security policy-makers coordinate the logistics of targeted air strikes in Syria, Moscow is hosting talks between the warring parties, managing the conflict in a way the West probably can't.

Not all parties are present at the talks, the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition refuses to engage unless Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is ousted as a result of any negotiation. Nevertheless, it's a clear step towards slowing armed conflict and helping prevent escalation.

The fact that Russia is hosting shows its relationship with the Middle East and the role it plays that Western powers aren't able to keep up with. In particular, US efforts have fallen flat in the region across its regime changes: Bush's misdirected post 9/11 wars and recent efforts in diplomacy under Obama.

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Who was Hillary E-Mailing? What Big Data Can Tell Us

Hillary Clinton Secretary of State GraphWhile we wait for the FOIA release of official records that she has handed over, we can get a glimpse of what two-way messages we are most likely to find in the diplomat's inbox by using big data. A simple network analysis of media coverage of her position as secretary of state offers insight into her contact list and correspondence-a-la-statecraft.

Unfortunately, once the public gains access to her private-public emails, they still won't be the whole crop, as she has had the luxury of selectively deciding which fall under the jurisdiction of her former employer. I would be reluctant to turn over my emails too.

Still, as a high-profile diplomat, plenty of her digital dialogue should be pretty predictable. Aside from a handful of cat photos, a few caustic remarks to staff, and maybe some confusing late-night mobile responses, this hubbub could be all over some run of the mill work emails. Don't be surprised WikiLeaks isn't overloaded with new incriminating details when the records go public.

Moreover, and more importantly, if you think she's near-sighted enough to endanger her career in writing, you may be missing the big picture. Anyone with the expert-level decision to load a home server to handle email privately probably isn't going to waste a shot at being the first US female head of state.

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Want to read past a paywall? Try mobile

My lovely home screen

I'm signed up for a few publications that I pay for, but I monitor many more. Pretty often I read the intro only to be stopped because it's premium content that I need to pay for. Some publishers simply restrict access to certain articles, others allow you a certain number of unpaid articles per month. Either way, sometimes you can get around it.

For sites like the New York Times that allow you to read a few articles before they restrict access, you can always use private or incognito mode to read through. You can also just clear your cookies. Overall it's pretty simple. Another option, is just to look it up on your device. Switching to a different screen has other implications that I've noticed on more than a few sites.

Without referring to any specific publications, I've come across a few different content sites that have premium content you have to sign up for. However, I've also noticed that their security barriers aren't always up to to the task of limiting mobile access to that same content. This flaw has shown up a few times when I'm reading articles from my RSS reader, and when I try to open them up on my computer to share, it's blocked. I wouldn't have even known that it was premium content if I hadn't tried to open it up on a normal browser.

I suggest that if you're really interested in reading an article, but don't want to sign up for a membership, try viewing the article on your device.

Alternative Action and Modern Society

German scholar Ulrich Beck died this week. His analysis of modern society gave way to a greater understanding of how diverse actors, including governments, institutions, and people interact on a day-to-day basis. Specifically, his concept of "subpolitics" encourages the global community to shift from traditional politics, where elected representatives are the mainstay of democratic processes and decision-making, to a system of alternative action. 

What is alternative action?

Beck gives lengthy and highly theoretical accounts of how the social contract has changed, how capitalism has ushered in new forms of control by corporate entities, and how individuals and communities can exert pressure to make change. This complex interplay of shifting roles of government, increased power and limited accountability of industry, and the response of organized action evolves into a new subset of conflicts within politics.

In systematic terms, environmental hazards constitute a field of conflict-there are always losers, but there are always winners as well. Polluter interests, victim interests, and helper interests confront one another. As the danger and the general perception of this conflict increase, a highly legitimate interest in preventing and eliminating it grows at the same time. The ecological crisis produces and cultivates a cultural Red Cross consciousness. It transforms everyday trivial, unimportant things into tests of courage in which heroism can be exhibited. Far from intensifying and confirming the general pointlessness of modernity, environmental dangers create a substantive semantic horizon of avoidance, prevention, and helping.


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