This is the nation of Nauru. All of it. (Satellite photo by ARM, Public Domain)

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Welcome to the second episode of Reading the Globe, a new original weekly podcast produced by AudioHopper. Host Michael Washburn summarizes, synthesizes and criticizes the week’s most important and fascinating stories. This week, Reading the Globe considers:

CNN’s story by Matt Egan noting how Robinhood got hit with the largest fine ever levied by the Financial Industrial Regulatory Authority. FINRA accused the trading platform — which feels like a video game and thus has attracted and probably addicted tons of young people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing — of harming millions of customers. “The fine imposed in this matter, the highest ever levied by FINRA, reflects the scope and seriousness of Robinhood’s violations,” said the agency’s head of enforcement Jessica Hopper (no relation to AudioHopper).

As is usual in these kind of financial settlements, Robinhood “neither admitted to nor denied the charges.” But Hopper seemed to take a swipe at the famous Silicon Valley ethos when she said, compliance with FINRA’s rules “is not optional” and cannot be ignored in an attempt to “‘break things’ and fix them later.” FINRA paid special attention to the suicide of 20-year-old Alexander Kearns, who died in June 2020 after seeing a balance of negative $730,000 in his trading account, which was a mistake on the platform’s part and cast unfavorable light on the videogame-like nature of the colorful interface of the platform.

National Review’s fascinating July 1 issue is devoted to the theme of Occupied Wall Street: Woke Capitalism and the Radicalization of Corporate America. As David L. Bahnsen details in an article, “The Jack-of-All-Trades Fed,” the body is now expected to pursue social goals in addition to an already vastly expanded roster of functions related to monetary policy, interest rates, and the solvency and stability of banks and financial institutions.

Under President Biden, a body once charged with pursuing sound fiscal policy in a politically neutral manner now is also supposed to address the racial wealth gap and deal with climate change. In the eyes of some progressives, those twin imperatives may already represent the real “dual mandate” the Fed must pursue at all costs.

For years, the world had relied on the tiny island nation of Nauru for its rich deposits of phosphate, the key ingredient in fertilizer. By the 1990s,  strip-mining has depleted its easy-to-access resources so the country re-invented itself as a tax haven and quickly became a center for money laundering. Now, to re-enter the good graces of the first world, the tiny nation — just 8 square miles — faces a choice. As a story in the Cook Island News details, Nauru can clean up its banking laws and turn to environmentally devastating deep-sea mining. Or it can starve. The world’s wealthy countries face the kind of “environment vs human misery” that will surely become more common in the coming decades.

How far will Quebec go to preserve its francophone character? Having narrowly voted against secession from Canada in 1980 and 1995, pressures for an officially French province have been building for some time and things are likely to come to a head this summer thanks to a bill put forward on May 13 by Coalition Avenir Québec, which dominates the province’s national assembly, having won a majority of seats in the elections of October 2018. The bill is not just another sentimental gesture. Its authors mean business. As reported in The Economist’s June 26 issue, the bill is part of an effort to promote French as Quebec’s official language. It requires businesses to have a bulk of their signs in French, and requires those with 25 or more employees to put committees in place that will oversee the use of written and spoken French in company affairs. In a province famously welcoming to immigrants and refugees, new arrivals will have six months to learn French, after which any government letters they receive will be in French rather than the language of their preference. The bill even goes so far as to seek to revise Canada’s constitution by adding language referring to Quebec as a “nation.”

Click here to play Episode 001 of Reading the Globe or play it on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.


By Michael Washburn

Michael Washburn is a Brooklyn-based writer and journalist. He is the author of the short story collections Scenes from the Catastrophe (2016), The Uprooted and Other Stories (2018), When We're Grownups (2019), and Stranger, Stranger (2020). Michael's story "Confessions of a Spook" won Causeway Lit's 2018 fiction contest.