Newsletter: Daily Pnuts


DECEMBER 14, 2021

“Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them.” – Alfred North Whitehead

A Peace Of Their Minds

Maria Ressa of the Philippinesand Dmitry Muratov of Russia

(Håkon Mosvold Larsen via Getty Images)

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded last week in Oslo, Germany to a shrunken audience after a rise in Covid cases led the attendance to be cut from 1,000 people to just 200. Two investigative journalists from the Philippines and Russia used their Nobel Prize acceptance speeches on Friday to caution against the rise of authoritarianism and the spread of misinformation on social media platforms.

Maria Ressa, the CEO of Filipino news site Rappler, implored social media companies to either take responsibility for the false information spread on their platforms or risk democracy, asking, “how can you have election integrity if you don’t have integrity of facts?” The other honoree, Dmitry Muratov, is editor-in-chief of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. His speech focused on the dangers of journalism in an authoritarian state, noting that “Over a hundred journalists, media outlets, human rights defenders, and NGOs have recently been branded as ‘foreign agents.’” He explained that, in Russia, “foreign agents” are “enemies of the people.”

Investigative journalists are critical to history. Muratov gave the example of the discovery in the fall that the number of Belarusian flights from the Middle East to Minsk, the Belarusian capital, had quadrupled. Reporters had uncovered that Belarus was encouraging refugees to flood the Belarus-Polish border to create a migration crisis, which analysts say is intended to destabilize the European Union. Rappler released an expose on the Philippine government’s war on drugs, which led President Duterte’s supporters to take to social media and spread false information about Rappler and Ressa herself. Ressa noted specifically in her speech that the proliferation of misinformation manifested itself in a particularly egregious way in the U.S., saying, “Silicon Valley’s sins came home to roost in the United States on January 6 with mob violence on Capitol Hill.”

The Nobel speeches come at the same time as more news of Facebook/Meta turmoil. Shareholders in the tech giant collectively filed eight proposals, including a request for board oversight of efforts to reduce harmful content, an assessment of the risk of the company’s metaverse efforts, and a review of the audit and risk committee. Whistleblower Frances Haugen threw the social media company into a tailspin when she revealed the extent to which Facebook knew about the harm it causes in terms of misinformation, and its subsequent decision to ignore that information. (NPR, WSJ)

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Defense Down Under

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison

(Lukas Coch via Getty Images)

  • South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison signed a $720 million defense deal on Monday during President Moon Jae-in’s two-day official visit to Australia. Jae-in’s visit marks the first foreign leader visit to Australia since the Covid-19 pandemic began. The deal is the largest defense contract between Australia and an Asian nation, and comes at a time when tensions are high between Australia and China.
  • Australia also recently announced a deal to build nuclear-powered submarines in a partnership with the U.S. and Britain. The deal states that South Korean defense company Hanwha will provide the Australian army with artillery weapons, supply vehicles, and radars. “The contract that we have signed today, I think, speaks volumes about what we believe are the capabilities of the Korean defense industry,” Morrison said.
  • The leaders also said they would work together on developing clean energy technologies, including hydrogen, and on facilitating the supply of critical minerals. In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin criticized Australia for its attempts to boost its defenses at a daily briefing. Wang accused Australia of “trying to divert attention, draw ideological lines, and set up imaginary enemies in the name of democracy and freedom.” (ABC)

Hazy Waves 

  • Two cargo ships crashed amidst the foggy weather in the Baltic Sea on Monday, leading to a search and rescue operation for two missing people. The Karin Hoej reported two missing people after the ship capsized and turned upside down after colliding with the Scot Carrier, who reported that all crew members were safe.
  • The rescue operation continued for over five hours after the incident, with divers standing by to investigate the hull of the capsized Karin Hoej. “I can confirm an accident has happened but I do not know the circumstances,” said Soren Hoj, managing director of the shipping company Rederiet Hoj, which owns the Karin Hoej.
  • The vessel, which was not loaded, was sailing from Sodertalje in Sweden to Nykobing Falster in southern Denmark with two people on board, he said. The Scot Carrier was sailing from Hargshamn to Montrose, and owner Scotline did not provide any comments on the details of the incident. (NBC)

Additional World News

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Biden’s Pie In The Sky

  • President Biden signed an executive order Monday aimed at making federal services more efficient for the public. The order would reduce bureaucratic runaround, which describes the processes that force people to visit multiple offices, wait for mail, or endure long phone calls to get their passport renewed or apply for social services. Biden signed the order as his presidency faces some stagnation after its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • While COVID-19 relief funding gave the economy the jump-start it needed last year, the country is currently facing a four-decade high in inflation, and the pandemic continues to affect people’s daily lives. The order’s proposed changes would affect 17 federal agencies spanning a variety of services. In theory, the order would allow easier online access to many government services, from Social Security and veteran benefits to passport renewals and student loan portals.
  • However, many experts doubt that the order will amount to much. One public policy professor from New York University stated, “The fight to improve government services requires a broad retooling of the bureaucratic wiring and flattening of the hierarchy. The federal government may be willing, but its technology is ancient, its personnel system sluggish, the bureaucratic layering unrelenting.” (AP News)

Border-Crossing Investments

  • On Monday, Vice President Kamala Harris announced a plan which will spend $540 million in private investments in Central America. The plan comes as part of the U.S. response to an increase in immigrants from the region, hopefully allowing local governments to address key issues causing the exodus.
  • Many U.S. conservatives blame lax border control and the U.S. appearing more lenient on migration issues for the increased number of immigrants coming to the U.S. since March, the left has pointed to COVID-19, poverty, crime, and natural disasters in Central American countries as the causes of the increase in immigration. The latest round of funding hopes to help address those issues.
  • While corruption has been an issue in many Central American countries, the funding is being invested with hopes of increasing transparent business practices in the region. The administration predicts that increasing access to digital credit and raising wages at the companies providing funding will also allow more people to live more comfortably in their home countries. (LA Times)

Additional USA News

Going One If By Land, Going Two If By Sea…Sold!

  • Items found in the attic of a home in Canton, Massachusetts were sold for $20,000 at auction on Saturday. The home is believed to have been owned by the family of Paul Revere, and the artifacts sold included wrought iron calipers, letters, an account book belonging to Paul Revere’s descendants, and a sign painted black bearing the name of Paul Revere’s son, Joseph W. Revere.
  • The items were sold as a single lot by John McInnis Auctioneers, and were estimated to go for only up to $8,000. The buyer won the bid online, and their identity has not been revealed. The Revere family owned a casing company in Canton, which McInnis believes is where the sign originated. The auction house is confident that the bid was so high because of Revere’s name being attached.
  • Revere was born and lived in Boston for most of his life, and purchased a home in Canton in the early 19th century. He later opened the Revere Copper Company there, and his descendants remained in the area for generations. Revere is most well known, of course, for his midnight ride in April of 1775 to warn that the British Army was approaching. (ABC)

Additional Reads