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Interesting Links: Sep 1, 2016

September 1, 2016 2 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are all about how the “security” or “law and order” agencies in the USA (and other western countries) have become addicted to uncontrollable growth- with openly voracious and cannibalistic behavior. One of the linked pieces also makes the point that such growth creates new vulnerabilities for the host society which are far worse than the problem this growth was supposed to solve.

Link 1: Former Anti-Terror FBI Employee now finds Himself a Target

As a FBI surveillance employee, Ray Tahir spent the last decade tailing Muslims in counterterrorism cases. Among the investigations whose surveillance Tahir led were those of the charity Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development in Texas and North Carolina’s Daniel Patrick Boyd, who with others was convicted of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and conspiracy to commit murder, maiming, and kidnapping overseas. Both FBI cases had their critics. The American Civil Liberties Union described the prosecution of Holy Land Foundation as “discriminatory enforcement of counterterrorism laws.” In the Boyd case, as in other informant-led FBI stings, there are questions about whether the men convicted would have done anything at all were it not for the FBI’s involvement. As the FBI targeted Muslims in the United States following the 9/11 attacks, Tahir was among the front-line employees who made some of these cases possible. Now, he alleges, he has become a target himself.

Link 2: Leaked Catalogue reveals a Vast Array of Military Spy Gear offered to U.S. Police

A Confidential, 120-page catalogue of spy equipment, originating from British defense firm Cobham and circulated to U.S. law enforcement, touts gear that can intercept wireless calls and text messages, locate people via their mobile phones, and jam cellular communications in a particular area. The catalogue was obtained by The Intercept as part of a large trove of documents originating within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, where spokesperson Molly Best confirmed Cobham wares have been purchased but did not provide further information. The document provides a rare look at the wide range of electronic surveillance tactics used by police and militaries in the U.S. and abroad, offering equipment ranging from black boxes that can monitor an entire town’s cellular signals to microphones hidden in lighters and cameras hidden in trashcans. Markings date it to 2014. Cobham, recently cited among several major British firms exporting surveillance technology to oppressive regimes, has counted police in the United States among its clients, Cobham spokesperson Greg Caires confirmed.

Link 3: Hacking the US with only a Sound

Unlike the classic example of yelling “fire” in a crowded movie theater, this panic can be induced by anything that sounds/looks/feels like a threat rather than the claim of a specific threat (like “fire”). Nearly anything can set them off. Here’s three examples of that over the last two weeks (there have been many more): JFK Airport- Unfounded reports of gunfire led to an evacuation of terminals. Police march passengers out of the terminal with their hands up. Police speculate that it was started by load fans of the Rio Olympics. CrabTree Valley Mall (NC)- Unfounded reports of an active shooter leads to a panicked evacuation of the mall. LAX Airport- Unfounded reports of a shooter led to people storming the jetway doors and spilling out onto the tarmac, people barricading themselves into bathrooms in multiple terminals, and more.

This public reactiveness may become the new normal both here and in Europe. If so, we can expect people take advantage of it. Here’s how. All it takes is a single audio clip. Like this or this either near a public space or done remotely on a timed playback device is all it would take to ignite the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) that leads to a large-scale evacuation. In fact, people are so reactive now, I suspect it wouldn’t even take a sound that is explicit, only something that sounds similar. Think about this for a moment. The ability to shut down a public space for hours: anytime (just walk in and play the sounds); remotely (low-cost playback device on timer/remote activation); or on a large-scale (thousands of people playing the sounds on their smart phones in public spaces simultaneously)

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: June 13, 2016

June 13, 2016 3 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are all about a still little talked about angle of the Omar Mateen story. To make a long story short- it appears that Omar was deeply in the closet. Will write a longer piece about that incident soon.

Link 1: Orlando Shooter Was Reportedly a Regular at Pulse and Had a Profile on Gay Dating App

But according to witnesses, Mateen was also a regular at the club and exchanged messages with at least one gay man on a gay dating app. “It’s the same guy,” Chris Callen, who performs under the name Kristina McLaughlin, told the Canadian Press. “He’s been going to this bar for at least three years.” Ty Smith, who also goes by the name Aries, also said he’d seen Mateen being escorted drunk from the club, Pulse, on multiple occasions. “(He’d get) really, really drunk… He couldn’t drink when he was at home—around his wife, or family. His father was really strict… He used to bitch about it,” Smith told the Canadian Press. “Sometimes he would go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself, and other times he would get so drunk he was loud and belligerent,” Smith also explained to the Orlando Sentinel, which spoke with at least four clubgoers who remembered seeing Mateen at Pulse at least a dozen times. “We didn’t really talk to him a lot, but I remember him saying things about his dad at times… He told us he had a wife and child.”

Link 2: Reports: Ex-Wife and Classmate Say Orlando Killer Was Gay

Mateen’s former classmate, who was not named in the story, tells the paper Mateen asked him on a date when they were both students at the Indian River Community College police academy in 2006. His account, via the Palm Beach Post: He said Mateen asked him out romantically. “We went to a few gay bars with him, and I was not out at the time, so I declined his offer,” he said. He believed Mateen was gay, but not open about it. Mateen was awkward, and for a while the classmate and the rest in the group of friends felt sorry for him. “He just wanted to fit in and no one liked him,” he said. “He was always socially awkward.” Mateen was married at least once, to a woman named Sitora Yusufiy, who said Sunday that he was unstable and abusive during their brief marriage. Yusufiy, who is now dating a Brazilian man, also sat for an interview with Brazilian TV Monday. Speaking in Portuguese, her boyfriend said in the interview that she had described Mateen as having “gay tendencies” and said his dad had called him gay in front of her on several occasions.

Link 3: Orlando shooter Omar Mateen was gay, former classmate says

A former classmate of Omar Mateen’s 2006 police academy class said he believed Mateen was gay, saying Mateen once asked him out. Officials say Mateen shot and killed 49 people and injured 53 others at an Orlando nightclub early Sunday morning. The classmate said that he, Mateen and other classmates would hang out, sometimes going to gay nightclubs, after classes at the Indian River Community College police academy. He said Mateen asked him out romantically. “We went to a few gay bars with him, and I was not out at the time, so I declined his offer,” the former classmate said. He asked that his name not be used. He believed Mateen was gay, but not open about it. Mateen was awkward, and for a while the classmate and the rest in the group of friends felt sorry for him. In Orlando, the Los Angeles Times reported that Mateen attended the Pulse nightclub possibly as many as a dozen times before the rampage. Kevin West said he had messaged Mateen back and forth over a year’s time on the gay dating app Jack’d but never met him until he saw Mateen crossing the street about 1 a.m. Sunday. “He walked directly past me. I said, ‘Hey,’ and he turned and said, ‘Hey,’” and nodded his head, West said. “I could tell by the eyes.”

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: May 31, 2016

May 31, 2016 3 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are about the close linkage of prolonged economic downturns, widespread disillusionment with the ‘system’ and rise of populist politicians. As usual, note that you should not believe any author just because you agree with one or two of their opinions.

Link 1: An entire class of Americans misunderstood and rejected: Dismissing white workers is profoundly reactionary

The white working class is under the microscope. Facing bleak economic prospects and opioid overdose, wage-labor rage is alternatively credited and blamed for propelling the Sanders and Trump insurgencies. But a growing number of dissident analyses contend that this new conventional wisdom rests on lazy assumptions: Trump supporters are well to do, Sanders’ advantage is based on age rather than income, and whites aren’t really that poor anyhow compared to black and Latino people. The debate is an empirical one but emerges from general elite agita over just what to think of these people who many comprehend with the nuance that generally pertains to cartoon characters. From the liberal establishment, it’s about painting Sanders as a phenomenon rooted in white college students. On the right, it’s a plain meltdown over Trump’s usurpation. But whether it be derision or dismissal coming from liberals or conservatives the upshot is diminishing the import and possibility of class politics in the United States.

One finding that’s hard to ignore: Trump support is highly correlated to areas where the death rates of middle-aged white people, fueled by opioid overdoses, are spiking. No doubt xenophobia and white nationalism is driving Trump’s rise. But its the admixture of economic populism, however phony, that makes him so potent. Not only are people in the bottom and middle getting squeezed, many in the middle are falling into the bottom or fear that they will. Wages have been stagnant. Median household income and wealth plummeted during the Great Recession. At the same time, healthcare, childcare, higher education, housing and retirement costs have risen. Since 1979, the share of working-age American households making within 50-percent of the median has steadily declined. Importantly, class self-perception has shifted too, with many fewer Americans identifying as middle class and many more identifying as lower class. In particular, the number of young people identifying as lower or lower-middle class has skyrocketed. It should be expected that voter incomes exceed those of larger populations including non-voters. Missing that distorts analyses of any given candidates’ class appeal.

Link 2: The Elites and the Rise of Donald Trump

The “privilege” that these working class whites are looking to defend is middle class factory jobs paying between $15 and $30 an hour. These jobs generally came with decent health care benefits and often a traditional defined benefit pension, although that has become increasingly rare over the last two decades. This is certainly a privileged position compared to billions of people in the developing world who would be happy to make $15 a day. It is also privileged compared to women, whose pay still averages less than 80 percent of their male counterparts. And, it is privileged compared to the situation of African Americans, Hispanics, and other racial and ethnic minorities who have frequently been trapped in the least desirable and lowest paying jobs. But these factory jobs and other blue collar occupations are hardly privileged when compared to the high flyers in the financial industry, the CEOs and other top level managers, or even professionals like doctors and dentists. These groups have all seen substantial increases in their pay and living standards over the last four decades.

To start with the simplest case, the pundits, who are all free traders, get really blank faced when the topic of protectionism for doctors, dentists, lawyers and other highly paid professionals comes up. Just as there are hundreds of millions of people in the developing world who are prepared to do factory labor for a fraction of the pay of our manufacturing workers, there are tens of millions of really smart ambitious people in the developing world (and Europe) who would happily train to U.S. standards and work as professionals here for a fraction of the pay of our doctors and lawyers. The difference is that we have designed our trade deals to subject our manufacturing workers to competition, while we have maintained or increased the protection for our doctors and lawyers. Then we have our financial sector where the bankers benefit from “too big to fail” insurance from the government. We also exempt trades of stocks, bonds, and derivatives from the same sort of sales tax that applies to clothes, cars, and most other products.

Link 3: Ascended Economy?

The part about replacing workers with robots isn’t too weird; lots of industries have already done that. There’s a whole big debate over to what degree that will intensify, and whether unemployed humans will find jobs somewhere else, or whether there will only be jobs for creative people with a certain education level or IQ. This part is well-discussed and I don’t have much to add. But lately there’s also been discussion of automating corporations themselves. I don’t know much about Ethereum (and I probably shouldn’t guess since I think the inventor reads this blog and could call me on it) but as I understand it they aim to replace corporate governance with algorithms. For example, the DAO is a leaderless investment fund that allocates money according to member votes. Right now this isn’t super interesting; algorithms can’t make too many difficult business decisions so it’s limited to corporations that just do a couple of primitive actions (and why would anyone want a democratic venture fund?). But once we get closer to true AI, they might be able to make the sort of business decisions that a CEO does today. The end goal is intelligent corporations controlled by nobody but themselves.

The more ascended corporations there are trying to maximize shareholder value, the more chance there is some will cause negative externalities. But there’s a limited amount we would be able to do about them. This is true today too, but at least today we maintain the illusion that if we just elected Bernie Sanders we could reverse the ravages of capitalism and get an economy that cares about the environment and the family and the common man. An Ascended Economy would destroy that illusion. How bad would it get? Once ascended corporations reach human or superhuman level intelligences, we run into the same AI goal-alignment problems as anywhere else. Would an ascended corporation pave over the Amazon to make a buck? Of course it would; even human corporations today do that, and an ascended corporation that didn’t have all human ethics programmed in might not even get that it was wrong. What if we programmed the corporation to follow local regulations, and Brazil banned paving over the Amazon? This is an example of trying to control AIs through goals plus injunctions – a tactic Bostrom finds very dubious. It’s essentially challenging a superintelligence to a battle of wits – “here’s something you want, and here are some rules telling you that you can’t get it, can you find a loophole in the rules?” If the superintelligence is super enough, the answer will always be yes.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: May 13, 2016

May 13, 2016 16 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are about the democratic party and its republican counterpart betrayed (and are still betraying) the working and middle class in USA.

Link 1: Our awful elites gutted America. Now they dare ring alarms about Trump, Sanders — and cast themselves as saviors

The worst offenders of all are the American left’s cultural warriors, who daily wage some new battle over some imagined cultural offense, which has nothing to do with the lives of normal people but only the highly tuned sensibilities of those in the academic, publishing, and media ecospheres. The Hillary supporters have the authoritarian mentality of small property owners. They are the mirror image of the “realist” Trump supporters, the difference being that the Trump supporters fall below the median income level, and are distressed and insecure, while the Hillary supporters stand above the median income level, and are prosperous but still insecure. To manipulate them, the Democratic and Republican elites have both played a double game for forty years and have gotten away with it. They have incrementally yet quite comprehensively seized all economic and political power for themselves. They have perverted free media and even such basics of the democratic process as voting and accountability in elections. Elites on both sides have collaborated to engineer a revolution of economic decline for the working person, until the situation has reached unbearable proportions. The stock market may be doing well, and unemployment may theoretically be low, but people can’t afford housing and food, they can’t pay back student loans and other debts, their lives, wherever they live in this transformed country, are full of such misery that there is not a single word that an establishment candidate like Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush says that makes sense to them.

Link 2: Unnecessariat

Prince, apparently, overdosed. He’s hardly alone, just famous. After all, death rates are up and life expectancy is down for a lot of people and overdoses seem to be a big part of the problem. You can plausibly make numerical comparisons. Here’s AIDS deaths in the US from 1987 through 1997. The number of overdoses in 2014? 47,055 of which at least 29,467 are attributable to opiates. The population is larger now, of course, but even the death rates are comparable. And rising. As with AIDS, families are being “hollowed out” with elders raising grandchildren, the intervening generation lost before their time. As with AIDS, neighborhoods are collapsing into the demands of dying, or of caring for the dying. This too is beginning to feel like a detonation. There’s a second, related detonation to consider. Suicide is up as well. The two go together: some people commit suicide by overdose, and conversely addiction is a miserable experience that leads many addicts to end it rather than continue to be the people they recognize they’ve become to family and friends, but there’s a deeper connection as well. Both suicide and addiction speak to a larger question of despair. Despair, loneliness, and a search, either temporarily or permanently, for a way out.

In 2011, economist Guy Standing coined the term “precariat” to refer to workers whose jobs were insecure, underpaid, and mobile, who had to engage in substantial “work for labor” to remain employed, whose survival could, at any time, be compromised by employers (who, for instance held their visas) and who therefore could do nothing to improve their lot. The term found favor in the Occupy movement, and was colloquially expanded to include not just farmworkers, contract workers, “gig” workers, but also unpaid interns, adjunct faculty, etc. Looking back from 2016, one pertinent characteristic seems obvious: no matter how tenuous, the precariat had jobs. The new dying Americans, the ones killing themselves on purpose or with drugs, don’t. Don’t, won’t, and know it. Here’s the thing: from where I live, the world has drifted away. We aren’t precarious, we’re unnecessary. The money has gone to the top. The wages have gone to the top. The recovery has gone to the top. And what’s worst of all, everybody who matters seems basically pretty okay with that. The new bright sparks, cheerfully referred to as “Young Gods” believe themselves to be the honest winners in a new invent-or-die economy, and are busily planning to escape into space or acquire superpowers, and instead of worrying about this, the talking heads on TV tell you its all a good thing- don’t worry, the recession’s over and everything’s better now, and technology is TOTES AMAZEBALLS!

Link 3: Burying the White Working Class

The media takeaway was clear: somehow, someway, West Virginia’s vote for a Jewish socialist Brooklyn native was a vote for racism. “I don’t want to say it,” said Chris Matthews on election night “but West Virginian voters are, you know — conservative on social issues — but there’s another word for that …” MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald claimed, “Many attributed the outcome to West Virginia voters’ discomfort with Obama’s race. The state is one of the whitest in the country.” To be fair, it’s now widely known that Hillary Clinton keeps hot sauce in her purse at all times. These kinds of statements are the name of the game for today’s Democratic elite. The party has established a clear line on the white wage-earning class: they’re all either dying (demographically or literally), irrelevant in an increasingly nonwhite country, or so hopelessly racist they can go off themselves with a Miller High Life-prescription-painkiller cocktail for all they care. As liberal hero and Sanders nemesis Barney Frank put it a couple of weeks ago, “the likelihood that fifty-eight-year-old coal miners are going to become the solar engineers of the future is nil.”

But even with such “dangerous” and “unrealistic” expectations why do elite liberals seem to focus so particularly on white wage-earners? Part of the explanation is that unlike with the white working class, many of the hardships workers of color face fit neatly within an acceptable liberal narrative about what’s wrong with our society: racism. And when racism can be blamed, capitalism can be exonerated. Liberals can delude themselves into believing that it is nothing more than the accumulation of individual prejudices stashed away in the minds of powerful white people that has destroyed black and brown communities in Detroit, Ferguson, and Chicago’s South Side. Class stratification, capital flight, and the war against organized labor are thus sidestepped completely. The liberal elite is spared from having to question the fundamental injustices of capitalism. Unfortunately, the miseries, hardships, and exploitation of white workers don’t fit into an easy capital-friendly framework. Liberals then have two options: blame the individual moral failings of white workers or call into question the very nature of capitalism itself.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: May 4, 2016

May 4, 2016 1 comment

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are about all those “professional pundits”, “political operatives” and “credentialed experts” failed to see the rise and ultimate success of Donald Trump’s campaign for the republican presidential nomination.

Link 1: Beyond Schadenfreude, the Spectacular Pundit Failure on Trump is Worth Remembering

Trying to predict the future can be fun, which is why – from office sports pools to stock market speculation – many do it. Generally, though, people make such predictions with at least some humility: with the knowledge that they do not actually know what the future holds. But not America’s beloved political pundits. When they pronounce what the future has in store for us, it comes in the form of definitive decrees, shaped with the tone of authoritative certainty. With a few exceptions, those who purported to see the future of the 2016 GOP nomination process spent many months categorically assuring everyone that, polls notwithstanding, Donald Trump simply could not, would not, become the GOP nominee; one could spend all day posting humiliating examples, so a representative sampling will have to suffice.

Let’s acknowledge all the valid caveats: there’s nothing inherently wrong with making predictions, and everyone who tries it is going to be wrong sometimes. Moreover, though there were some exceptions, very few pundits predicted Trump’s success (though there’s a huge difference between (a) refraining from predicting or doing so with a tone of uncertainty and (b) hubristically and condescendingly “explaining” The Truth to the world about what will happen). Many factors, such as Trump’s celebrity status, made these circumstances unusual. And everyone makes mistakes in every realm.

Nonetheless, it becomes a much different type of error when one invokes one’s own claimed authority and expertise when issuing such embarrassingly wrong pronouncements, and, worse still, when the tone used is one of certainty and hubris as though the decrees are being passed down from Mount Sinai. At the very least, when a profession that touts its expertise, collectively, is this wildly wrong about something so significant, more needs to be done than a cursory, superficial acknowledgment of error – or casting blame on others – before quickly moving on, in the hope that it’s all forgotten. Some collective, introspective soul-searching is in order.

Link 2: One of the most painful lessons ever learned in finance has finally come to politics

The statistician George Box once wrote, “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.” This is true. The failure to predict of Trump’s rise to the nomination, then, is not the fault of the work done by folks like Silver, but a manifestation of the hubris involved in trusting the party over what was happening on the ground. Trump dominated Republican polls for months, but his place in the race as a self-funded outsider who was clearly not the choice of The Party seemed entirely untenable. The incoming data was doubted all the way. The model broke. In a great tweetstorm Wednesday, former Wall Street trader Chris Arnade — who was among the slick, model-wielding upstarts to hit finance in the 1990s — broke down the problem with models, with beliefs, and why Trump’s imminent nomination is, really, a pie in the face for everybody. The success of Silver in 2008 and 2012 at the time appeared to be the triumph of math over feeling or inspiration. The classic political pundit could — still can! — anecdotally outline their case for or against a certain candidate. Silver instead brought the data to back up his view. And he was very right.

But where a Silver-style model eventually broke down this cycle was in doing what all models do: using the past to predict the future. And this is ultimately why Box’s quote endures. All models — even those that are useful and correct for long stretches — will eventually reach a point at which the current inputs no longer yield results that look anything like the past. The model’s guiding light goes dark. The model breaks. Arnade argued Wednesday that this affirms the need for on-the-ground reporting, meeting voters in real life, getting a feel for just how serious the Trump thing is by talking to people who take it seriously. Maybe this is the answer. Maybe not. But Arnade’s point is that using the model as a backstop to affirm your priors — that Trump can’t win because he’s not the party’s choice, that he’s too unserious, too racist, too inconsistent, too everything — is exactly the point at which the model begins to fail. Long-Term Capital Management thought all arbitrage opportunities would eventually revert to some efficient equilibria. Then they incurred a revision of belief, and then they were out of business.

Link 3: The Trump-ocalypse is upon us: America can’t afford to misunderstand what his nomination means

Being so wrong is a professional hazard of the dumb game of covering politics like a sports match. But it’s worth exploring more specifically why. The immense power of conventional wisdom can swamp all but the most powerful contrary evidence—evidence like, say, Trump becoming the presumptive nominee yesterday. There were lots of clear messages that the rules of the game weren’t holding, such as when, last July, Trump insulted John McCain for being captured in Vietnam and suffered zero concrete consequences. Pundits weren’t listening. Trump’s rise should not have been incomprehensible. Much available evidence has long suggested that today’s Republican Party is capable of anything. In recent years, government shutdowns became the norm, a huge fan of Ayn Rand was elevated to House Speaker, and somewhere near half of all Republicans said they believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Meanwhile, everything hinted that Jeb Bush’s candidacy might prove to be the very nonstarter that it was. But no matter.

Wonks typically make predictions from big data sets that are in reality drawn from presidential elections—something that, in numerical terms, have happened a very small number of times. If journalists are only good at describing what passes for normal over a few decades, journalism is not very useful at understanding reality when things get interesting. And as things have gotten more interesting, journalists have played catch up every time, from the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street to Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. It’s been clear since the financial crisis that American politics are fragmenting under the stress of enormous income inequality — toward the socialist left and, on the white right, a toxic quasi-fascist stew that conflates middle-class decline with growing racial diversity.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Apr 19, 2016

April 19, 2016 2 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are all about how neoliberalism aka late-stage capitalism is busy killing its host.

Link 1: The Mental Disease of Late-Stage Capitalism

Seriously though, we should have seen this coming. Build an economic system based on wealth hoarding and presumed scarcity and you’ll get what was intended. The system is performing exactly as it was designed to. That is why wages have stagnated in the West for 30 years. It is why 62 people are able to have the same amount of wealth as 3.7 billion. It is why politicians are bought by the highest bidders and legislation systematically serves the already-rich at the expense of society. A great irony of this deeply corrupt system of wealth hoarding is that the “weapon of choice” is how we feel about ourselves as we interact with our friends. The elites don’t have to silence us. We do that ourselves by refusing to talk about what is happening to us. Fake it until you make it. That’s the advice we are given by the already successful who have pigeon-holed themselves into the tiny number of real opportunities society had to offer. Hold yourself accountable for the crushing political system that was designed to divide us against ourselves.

Link 2: The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans Important – ignore all popup messages from this site requesting you to whitelist it on Adblock Plus!

I know what it is like to have to juggle creditors to make it through a week. I know what it is like to have to swallow my pride and constantly dun people to pay me so that I can pay others. I know what it is like to have liens slapped on me and to have my bank account levied by creditors. I know what it is like to be down to my last $5—literally—while I wait for a paycheck to arrive, and I know what it is like to subsist for days on a diet of eggs. I know what it is like to dread going to the mailbox, because there will always be new bills to pay but seldom a check with which to pay them. I know what it is like to have to tell my daughter that I didn’t know if I would be able to pay for her wedding; it all depended on whether something good happened. And I know what it is like to have to borrow money from my adult daughters because my wife and I ran out of heating oil.

Financial impotence goes by other names: financial fragility, financial insecurity, financial distress. But whatever you call it, the evidence strongly indicates that either a sizable minority or a slim majority of Americans are on thin ice financially. How thin? A 2014 Bankrate survey, echoing the Fed’s data, found that only 38 percent of Americans would cover a $1,000 emergency-room visit or $500 car repair with money they’d saved. Two reports published last year by the Pew Charitable Trusts found, respectively, that 55 percent of households didn’t have enough liquid savings to replace a month’s worth of lost income, and that of the 56 percent of people who said they’d worried about their finances in the previous year, 71 percent were concerned about having enough money to cover everyday expenses. A similar study conducted by Annamaria Lusardi of George Washington University, Peter Tufano of Oxford, and Daniel Schneider, then of Princeton, asked individuals whether they could “come up with” $2,000 within 30 days for an unanticipated expense. They found that slightly more than one-quarter could not, and another 19 percent could do so only if they pawned possessions or took out payday loans.

Link 3: Why Are Voters Angry? It’s the 1099 Economy, Stupid.

Meanwhile, in my time as a freelancer I could never access health-care or pension-benefit plans. If production took a day off for a holiday, nobody got paid. If you set up a gig and the production schedule got pushed back a week, so did your opportunity to earn money. Sick days and personal days didn’t exist. I remember once being sick but still coming in for a late-night editing shift, taking medication to get me through the evening. I didn’t notice that the cold medicine I took was Tylenol PM until I fell asleep in my chair. I played loud music with the windows down on my more-treacherous-than-it-needed-to-be drive home late that night. But I got paid. These are sadly typical stories of those disempowered at work, with all the risks put on their shoulders. “Angry” voters may simply be angry workers tossed into the Darwinian world of the modern economy, operating without any fallback support from their employers or their government. This was bound to find its way into our politics, but though solutions for these workers exist, nobody is talking about them.

The way the 1099 economy is sold, with airy platitudes about freedom and being your own boss, doesn’t correspond to the very real anxiety of this type of arrangement. You’re cut off from any safety net that relies on employers. You have an unpaid, part-time job consisting of getting your next job and making sure you get paid for your last job. Your taxes are a nightmare to unravel. You have no advocates for you in the workplace, and little bargaining power to improve your lot. The fact that this shift toward the 1099 economy occurred mostly during a terrible labor market suggests it was never a matter of worker choice, but an exercise of employer power. And it’s become a frustration for millions, a confirmation of the rigged economy that places more of a burden on ordinary people. It certainly informs this anti-establishment, anti-business-as-usual political moment.

Link 4: The New Astrology

But despite the funding crunch, it’s a bull market for academic economists. According to a 2015 sociological study in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, the median salary of economics teachers in 2012 increased to $103,000 – nearly $30,000 more than sociologists. For the top 10 per cent of economists, that figure jumps to $160,000, higher than the next most lucrative academic discipline – engineering. These figures, stress the study’s authors, do not include other sources of income such as consulting fees for banks and hedge funds, which, as many learned from the documentary Inside Job (2010), are often substantial. Ben Bernanke, a former academic economist and ex-chairman of the Federal Reserve, earns $200,000-$400,000 for a single appearance. Unlike engineers and chemists, economists cannot point to concrete objects – cell phones, plastic – to justify the high valuation of their discipline. Nor, in the case of financial economics and macroeconomics, can they point to the predictive power of their theories. Hedge funds employ cutting-edge economists who command princely fees, but routinely underperform index funds.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Apr 8, 2016

April 8, 2016 4 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are all about how “law enforcement” agencies left to their own devices will always screw over their host societies.

Link 1: CIA’s Venture Capital Arm Is Funding Skin Care Products That Collect DNA

Skincential Sciences, a company with an innovative line of cosmetic products marketed as a way to erase blemishes and soften skin, has caught the attention of beauty bloggers on YouTube, Oprah’s lifestyle magazine, and celebrity skin care professionals. Documents obtained by The Intercept reveal that the firm has also attracted interest and funding from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency. The previously undisclosed relationship with the CIA might come as some surprise to a visitor to the website of Clearista, the main product line of Skincential Sciences, which boasts of a “formula so you can feel confident and beautiful in your skin’s most natural state.”

The article, which is no longer available on the fund’s website but is preserved by a cache hosted by the Internet Archive, argues that advances in medical research into biomarkers can be leveraged by intelligence agencies for a variety of uses, from airport security to next-generation identification tools. A diagram in the article calls human skin the body’s largest organ and a “unique, underutilized source for sample collection.” The author, Dr. Kevin O’Connell, then a “senior solutions architect” with In-Q-Tel, notes, “The DNA contained in microorganisms in a person’s gut or on a person’s skin may contain sequences that indicate a particular geographical origin.”

Link 2: L.A. Activists Want to Bring Surveillance Conversation Down to Earth

Khan’s coalition works to track, publicize, and ultimately dismantle the highly intrusive ways the Los Angeles Police Department surveils the area’s citizens, using an infrastructure of advanced intelligence gathering linked to federal government counterterrorism initiatives. The LAPD uses big data for “predictive policing,” street cameras with highly accurate facial recognition capabilities, Stingrays, and DRT boxes — which imitate cellphone towers to track nearby phones or jam signals — automatic license plate readers, body cameras, and drones. “How many different ways are our bodies being constantly tracked, traced, and monitored, not just online?” Khan asked in a phone interview.

Many of the policies adopted in L.A., he says, were originally developed to fight terrorism overseas — including predictive policing methods first funded by the U.S. military to track insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now they’re “becoming a part of local policing,” Khan said. The coalition discovered that the National Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, launched in 2008, gives LAPD license to “write up secret files on individuals based on speculation and hunches.” The group learned from an LAPD inspector general report in 2014 that over 30 percent of these reports are written about black people in L.A. — where less than 10 percent of the entire population is black.

Link 3: Spies in the Skies

Each weekday, dozens of U.S. government aircraft take to the skies and slowly circle over American cities. Piloted by agents of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the planes are fitted with high-resolution video cameras, often working with “augmented reality” software that can superimpose onto the video images everything from street and business names to the owners of individual homes. At least a few planes have carried devices that can track the cell phones of people below. Most of the aircraft are small, flying a mile or so above ground, and many use exhaust mufflers to mute their engines — making them hard to detect by the people they’re spying on. The government’s airborne surveillance has received little public scrutiny — until now. BuzzFeed News has assembled an unprecedented picture of the operation’s scale and sweep by analyzing aircraft location data collected by the flight-tracking website Flightradar24 from mid-August to the end of December last year, identifying about 200 federal aircraft. Day after day, dozens of these planes circled above cities across the nation.

But most of these government planes took the weekends off. The BuzzFeed News analysis found that surveillance flight time dropped more than 70% on Saturdays, Sundays, and federal holidays. “The fact that they are mostly not flying on weekends suggests these are relatively run-of-the-mill investigations,” Nathan Freed Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Project on Speech, Privacy, and Technology, told BuzzFeed News. The government’s aerial surveillance programs deserve scrutiny by the Supreme Court, said Adam Bates, a policy analyst with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C. “It’s very difficult to know, because these are very secretive programs, exactly what information they’re collecting and what they’re doing with it,” Bates told BuzzFeed News.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Mar 22, 2016

March 22, 2016 14 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are about the negative effects of the current “silicon valley” boom in the Bay Area.

Link 1: Venture Capital’s Answer to High-Priced Housing: Dorms for Grown Ups

Venture capitalists think they have an answer to the growing housing crunch in San Francisco and other big cities across the U.S.: adult dorms. Shared office space giant WeWork Cos., recently valued at $16 billion, and a handful of smaller startups are experimenting with “coliving,” a concept that involves tiny apartments, shared kitchens and lounges, and a communal atmosphere. Unlike traditional investments in the real-estate sector, which tends to be a slow-growth market with moderate returns, financial backers including Fidelity Investments and consumer-focused venture-capital fund Maveron are betting on hyper-fast expansion and startup-like profit. The wager is that 20-something residents moving to new cities will pay a premium to live in clusters of small apartments packed with peers in similar places in their lives. Apartment rents in big cities are high, furnishing an apartment is expensive and finding housing on Craigslist can be daunting, the thinking goes.

Link 2: Teachers Can’t Afford to Live Where They Teach

In San Francisco and Silicon Valley, housing is expensive and in short supply. All throughout the Bay Area, cities are discussing where the hell all their schoolteachers are supposed to live. It’s well known that housing costs in booming Bay Area cities are out of range of most public school teachers, who earn middle class salaries. And yet all of these cities have public schools. Gotta put those teachers somewhere. The most popular current out-of-the-box solution for this issue seems to be: build designated affordable housing for teachers. USA Today reports that San Francisco, Cupertino (where Apple is headquartered), Palo Alto, and Santa Clara are all building or considering building teacher-specific housing—although not enough to meet the need of all the teachers. In Mountain View, where Google is headquartered, the school district is also considering various ways it could build housing for teachers.

Link 3: Death by gentrification: the killing that shamed San Francisco

Alex Nieto was 28 years old when he was killed, in the neighbourhood where he had spent his whole life. He died in a barrage of bullets fired at him by four San Francisco policemen. There are a few things about his death that everyone agrees on: he was in a hilltop park eating a burrito and tortilla chips, wearing the Taser he carried for his job as a bouncer at a nightclub, when someone called 911 on him a little after 7pm on the evening of 21 March 2014. When police officers arrived a few minutes later, they claim Nieto defiantly pointed the Taser at them, and that they mistook its red laser light for the laser sights of a gun, and shot him in self-defence. However, the stories of the four officers contradict each other, and some of the evidence.

He had graduated from community college with a focus on criminal justice, and hoped to help young people as a probation officer. He had an internship with the city’s juvenile probation department not long before his death, according to former city probation officer Carlos Gonzalez, who became a friend. Gonzalez said Nieto knew how criminal justice worked in the city. No one has ever provided a convincing motive for why he would point a gun-shaped object at the police when he knew that it would probably be a fatal act.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Mar 7, 2016

March 7, 2016 5 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are all about how corporations are trying to use technological developments to hurt their employees and customers, rather than provide a better product or service.

Link 1: How Amazon Shames Warehouse Workers for Alleged Theft

In an effort to discourage stealing, Amazon has put up flatscreen TVs that display examples of alleged on-the-job theft, say 11 of the company’s current and former warehouse workers and antitheft staff. The alleged offenders aren’t identified by name. Each is represented by a black silhouette stamped with the word “terminated” and accompanied by details such as when they stole, what they stole, how much it was worth, and how they got caught—changing an outbound package’s address, for example, or stuffing merchandise in their socks. Some of the silhouettes are marked “arrested.”

In some warehouses that don’t have flatscreens, workers say, tales of firings are posted on sheets of paper tacked to bulletin boards or taped to the wall.Former managers in Amazon’s loss-prevention department say the use of theft stories was widespread during their tenure. Amazon didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story. Many of the workers say the screens aren’t a top concern compared with wages or workload. “Only people that would have something to say about it is people that’s doing wrong,” says Maurice Jones, a warehouse worker who left Amazon in February. “It’s just letting people know that you’re being watched.”

Link 2: You Don’t Own Your Ebooks

You don’t own your ebooks with DRM. You’re merely licensing the privilege to read them. Some readers overseas have learned this the hard way (yet again) now that Nook is going out of business in the United Kingdom. But don’t worry, they’re working to let you maybe possibly transfer all those books you bought. The Register and TechDirt brought this notice from Nook’s UK site to our attention.

They’re not even promising that you’ll be able to transfer all your books! Digital rights management (DRM) is absolutely crippling our ability to preserve digital knowledge for the future. And it’s half the reason I prefer deadtree books. Even when it’s an accident (like when Amazon deleted everybody’s copies of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from their Kindles) it shows just how little control we have over the books we “buy” from digital retailers.

Link 3: New Film delves into FBI Arrests of Youths for Terrorism Crimes they might Commit

The ethical issues involved in preventive counterterrorism cases like Sadequee’s are the theme behind much of Homegrown. Following 9/11, law enforcement agencies were given a mandate to halt terrorist acts before they occurred, rather than investigate crimes after the fact. This directive inevitably gave rise to some disturbing ethical questions. When is it acceptable to arrest someone for a crime they haven’t actually committed, but you think they might commit in the future? At what point do a teenager’s online postings turn into a terrorism offense?

In 2009, Sadequee was tried, convicted, and sentenced to a 17-year federal sentence. But even after receiving that harsh sentence, the irksome fact remained that Sadequee had never actually committed an act of terrorism. The allegations against him amounted to statements and translations he had made online as a teenager. At his trial, Sadequee said that these online activities were “just talk,” and were never intended to manifest in an act of violence.

Sadequee was not arrested until the age of 19, but it appears that the government had been surveilling him closely for many years before that. Among the accusations against him were that he had sought to join the Taliban in December 2001. At that time, Sadequee would have been 15 years old.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Mar 2, 2016

March 2, 2016 1 comment

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are about the largely glossed over, but massive, systemic problems plaguing Shrillary’s campaign for winning the democratic nomination and presidency.

Link 1: Beneath Hillary Clinton’s Super Tuesday Wins, Signs of Turnout Trouble

Democratic turnout has fallen drastically since 2008, the last time the party had a contested primary, with roughly three million fewer Democrats voting in the 15 states that have held caucuses or primaries through Tuesday, according to unofficial election results tallied through Wednesday afternoon. It declined in almost every state, dropping by roughly 50 percent in Texas and 40 percent in Tennessee. In Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia, the number of Democrats voting decreased by between a quarter and a third. The falloff in Democratic primary turnout — which often reveals whether a candidate is exciting voters and attracting them to the polls — reached deep into some of the core groups of voters Mrs. Clinton must not only win in November, but turn out in large numbers. It stands in sharp contrast to the flood of energized new voters showing up at the polls to vote for Donald J. Trump in the Republican contest.

“If there is a drop-off in the surge vote in Florida, Ohio and Virginia, that is 60 electoral votes,” Mr. King said. “No one has captured the real dilemma in the 2016 election. It’s not a question of whether Hillary Clinton would get 90 percent of the black vote. The question is: 90 percent of what?” Mr. King and other Democrats said that Mr. Trump could present Democrats with the prospect of a greatly altered political and demographic map. His candidacy is helping spur higher turnout in each of the first four Republican contests, including Nevada, where Mr. Trump’s vote total by itself surpassed overall turnout in the 2012 election, setting a state record. On Super Tuesday, Republicans smashed turnout records in Massachusetts, a traditionally Democratic-leaning state, and saw huge turnouts in Virginia and Tennessee.

Link 2: Clinton’s southern ‘firewall’ of support no sure thing come general election

Does that mean Clinton is well on her way to rebuilding the Obama coalition that could take her to the White House? That’s not so clear. For Clinton’s appeal to African-American Democrats is both rooted in – and limited by – her husband’s presidency. In Georgia, where Clinton is polling between 30 and 50 points ahead of Sanders, the lopsided numbers do not tell the full story of a generational split among black voters. “Hillary Clinton has nearly 100% name recognition among African-Americans here, and additionally she enjoys the establishment blessing, which is largely the group that benefitted from her husband’s policies. They rose in affluence and prominence in his administration,” says Francys Johnson, state president of the Georgia NAACP.

Name recognition may be enough to carry Clinton convincingly through the primaries, but that will not mean much against a man who has built his business around his personal name: Donald Trump, who is campaigning against the same free trade agreements. Clinton will need to do more than just win the lion’s share of the African-American vote. Barack Obama won re-election four years ago with 93% of the black vote, 71% of the Latino vote, and 39% of the white vote. While minority turnout hit a record high, it only represented one-quarter of the total electorate. To win in the solidly Republican states of the south, Clinton will need to drive high turnout among minorities and hold a larger share of the white vote than Obama. Neither of those scenarios is clear-cut, not least with a likely opponent as unpredictable as Donald Trump.

Link 3: Hillary Clinton’s South Carolina win wasn’t as impressive as you think

And as amazing as all those numbers are, they obscure a palpable lack of enthusiasm among Democrats. For all of Sanders’s talk of leading a political revolution among the Democratic base, the actual revolution is happening in the GOP. The Democratic primary in South Carolina last Saturday saw 162,701 fewer votes than in 2008. Meanwhile, the GOP contest in the Palmetto State a week earlier saw 306,721 MORE votes than in 2008. On top of that, Republicans cast 368,391 more votes than Democrats this S.C. primary season. During the 2008 S.C. primary, 101,031 more votes were cast by Democrats than Republicans. If the party of Obama wants a third term in the White House progressive voters absolutely must turn out. Folks are kidding themselves if they think Trump’s steady march to the Republican nomination will be tripped up by his penchant for misogyny, xenophobia and racism. That’s what made him. And they would be foolish to think that he could not win the White House. He most definitely could — if Democrats stay home.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Feb 24, 2016

February 24, 2016 7 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. While they may, at first, appear to be about diverse topics- they are all talking about the second- and third- order effects of the same underlying problem.

Link 1: Trump’s victories aren’t mysterious if you understand why people are angry

Anger isn’t something that Beltway pundits recognize, let alone understand because everyone employed in media or in politics in and around Washington DC is pretty well off. Even ink-stained wretches pull down five-figures – and, unlike everywhere else in America, since journalism is built on documenting nonsense, there’s some real job security in documenting Washington. Television people fare even better, because TV money is stupid money. Thinktank malefactors reap great sums from the aggrieved heartland or from industries looking to build a canon of falsified data, and Congress and the attendant lobbying is a helluva racket. Anger is pretty easy to miss when it’s something pretty difficult to feel. When you sit at the center of the world and are unlikely to ever lack for the basic materials of self-sufficiency, the idea of blind, gnawing resentment – let alone of feeding that resentment even with irrational aims – is ineluctably beyond your ken.

As tacky and thuggish as it might be, Trump plays the hero to people that the wise warriors of the system have abandoned. He’s the ultimate Gary Stu character: a billionaire beholden to no one and able to abuse every disingenuous and pettifogging remora latched headfirst on the nation and sucking upward. And as long as people can enjoy the elbow-throwing wish-fulfillment of watching him in action, most of the rest doesn’t matter to them – not the bombast, not the war-mongering, not the unfeasibility of even his signature promises and certainly not the consequences if he keeps them. If the system is already so broken that it abandoned you, its preservation is not your concern. Hell, burning it down might be what you want most. Anger has a clarity all its own. It renders most detail extraneous, and it animates like nothing else. It is not to be underestimated, and, at this point, we will probably have to wait until November to find out if it truly has been.

Link 2: The Party Crashers

The people who turn up at Sanders and Trump rallies are wed, across the aisle, in bonds of populist unrest. They’re revolting against party élites, and especially against the all-in-the-family candidates anointed by the Democratic and the Republican leadership: Clinton and Bush, the wife and brother of past party leaders. (More attention has been paid to the unravelling of the G.O.P.; the Democratic Party is no less frayed.) There is, undoubtedly, a great deal of discontent, particularly with the role of money in elections: both Sanders and Trump damn the campaign-finance system as rigged and the establishment as corrupt. But to call the current state of affairs, in either party, a political revolution isn’t altogether accurate.

The American party system is not only a creation of the press; it is dependent on it. It is currently fashionable, indispensable, even, to malign the press, whether liberal or conservative. “That’s the media game,” Sanders said, dismissing a question that Cooper had asked him during CNN’s town hall. “That’s what the media talks about. Who cares?” But when the press is in the throes of change, so is the party system. And the national weal had better watch out. It’s unlikely, but not impossible, that the accelerating and atomizing forces of this latest communications revolution will bring about the end of the party system and the beginning of a new and wobblier political institution. With our phones in our hands and our eyes on our phones, each of us is a reporter, each a photographer, unedited and ill judged, chatting, snapping, tweeting, and posting, yikking and yakking. At some point, does each of us become a party of one?

Link 3: Artificial Abundance and Artificial Scarcity

These structural contradictions have always made for reduced efficiency and irrationality. But in recent decades they have resulted in increasingly chronic crisis tendencies, which amount to a terminal crisis of capitalism as a system. Both artificial abundance and artificial scarcity have been integral to capitalism since its beginnings five centuries or so ago, and absolutely essential for the extraction of profit. But capitalism is becoming increasingly dependent on both artificial abundance and artificial scarcity for its survival at the very same time that the state’s ability to provide them is reaching its limits and going into decline. Hence a crisis of sustainability.

The permanent crisis of under-consumption, taken together with permanent unemployment and under-employment and the new affordable technologies for micro-manufacturing in home workshops and garage factories, mean that the working class will increasingly shift to meeting its own needs through production for local use in the social economy. And the fiscal exhaustion, retreat and collap0se of the old state- and employer-based safety nets will create a necessity for self-organized mechanisms (like micro-villages, multi-family co-housing units, extended family compounds, large-scale squats, etc.) for pooling costs, risks and income. The process of Exodus and counter-institution building is apt to be reminiscent of the rise of the free towns and their horizontal institutions for self-governance in the High Middle Ages, as recounted by Kropotkin.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Feb 18, 2016

February 18, 2016 11 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are about the unacceptably high levels of subjectivity and bias in what is passed off as “scientific research” by “experts” from “famous” universities.

Link 1: The truth is rarely pure and never simple

Zika is not the new Ebola But what is the truth about Zika and microcephaly? Argentine and Brazilian doctors suspect mosquito insecticide as cause of microcephaly Meanwhile Brazil’s health minister insisted on Friday that authorities were “absolutely sure” Zika was connected to microcephaly, though it has yet to be scientifically proven. A review of four years’ worth of medical records finds far greater numbers of microcephaly cases from before the ongoing Zika virus epidemic than had been officially reported.

Link 2: Brazil’s Pre-Zika Microcephaly Cases

In the past year, clinicians in Brazil have reported around 4,700 babies with suspected microcephaly, and reviews of 400 of the infants have confirmed the birth defect (another 700 suspected instances of microcephaly have been ruled out). The numbers are alarming to many clinicians in the South American nation. Some have questioned whether the cause of this increase in microcephaly is due to Zika virus—a hypothesis favored by many doctors and public health officials—other infections, or simply a catch-up in reporting.

To get a grasp on just how much the prevalence of microcephaly has changed recently, Sandra da Silva Mattos of the Círculo do Coração de Pernambuco and colleagues combed through the medical records of more than 16,000 babies. The infants were born between 2012 and 2015 at one of 21 medical centers in the state of Paraíba, which has been hard hit by Zika. Since 2012, Mattos’s team found, a strikingly large number of babies—4 percent to 8 percent—appeared to have microcephaly, according to the broadest definitions of the term. Additionally, the number of babies affected peaked in 2014, before Zika had been detected in Brazil.

Link 3: Scientists can’t agree whether salt is killing us. Here’s why.

The debate over the perils of salty diets may be one of the most polarized in all of science. On one side, scientists warn ominously that most Americans are killing themselves with salt. On the other, scientists insist most Americans are fine. The inability to resolve this question may seem puzzling. It is a question with deadly consequences, at least potentially. How much salt is healthy? Given the marvels of technology, it seems like that ought to be an easy one.

Now a review of hundreds of papers on the topic indicates that the inability to reach a consensus stems at least partially from the fact that the two groups of scientists operate, in essence, in parallel scientific universes. In one, the scientists write papers about the dangers of our salt consumption, and typically cite other papers that point to the same conclusion. In the other, the scientists write papers dismissing or minimizing the danger, and typically cite papers agreeing with their position. Each side, in other words, steers away from taking into account contrary results.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Feb 15, 2016

February 15, 2016 6 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are about how corporations will ALWAYS screw over their employees.

Link 1: I wonder if layoffs inspire disloyalty…

According to the FBI documents, the relationship between Liew and Spitler lasted for years. Liew flattered Spitler, who was bitter about DuPont’s business strategies and its decision in the ’90s to fire thousands of employees. Spitler also admitted to agents that he felt insecure about not having attended a top university (he got a degree from Tri-State University in Angola, Ind.) and was constantly worried about losing his job. Liew made Spitler feel valued and understood. He sent him a gift basket every Christmas, the FBI reports show, and helped pay for the funeral of Spitler’s daughter, who’d committed suicide in 2006. When Spitler would call to thank Liew for his generosity, the businessman would steer the conversation to business and titanium dioxide.

Spitler provided Liew with information about DuPont’s processes—even sketches of key components—and allowed him to root through boxes in his house and take whatever records he found. Spitler told federal agents that Liew paid him $15,000 for DuPont-related documents, including a blueprint to a plant in Delaware. The schematics provided details of flow rates, pipeline sizes, temperatures, and chemical compositions. As such, it was considered one of DuPont’s most critical trade secrets, U.S. law enforcement officials contend, and Liew used the documents to prove his bona fides to Chinese executives.

Link 2: Why Pay Employees to Exercise When You Can Threaten Them?

Wellness programs that penalize employees have been controversial and challenged as illegal. “Some people tend to think that the loss framing is a little bit harsh,” said Patel. That tactic puts more of a financial burden on employees to cover health insurance. Others argue it’s a way to discriminate against less healthy workers. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed several lawsuits against companies for designing what it believes are discriminatory wellness programs, though the agency has been largely unsuccessful so far. Employers like penalties because they work. And so far, judges have ruled in their favor. “We’re seeing the courts take a little bit different view of incentives,” said Patricia Nemeth, a partner at Nemeth Law PC, which specializes in labor law. “And it sounds like the view that the courts are taking is the one that’s working.”

While Patel’s new study did prove the power of taking money away, it only framed the incentive as a loss—it was actually still a net gain: The researchers gave participants money, and then took it away for failure. “They never had anything to lose in the first place, at the end of the day you made the same amount,” Dr. Patel explained. Some wellness programs are more aggressive, straight up making people pay for noncompliance. Broward County, a defendant in one wellness court case, required people who opted out of its program to pay $20 every other week. The plaintiff alleged that the threat violated the American With Disabilities Act and that the penalty made the program nonvoluntary. In that case, a federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled for the employer.

Link 3: Gearing Up for the Cloud, AT&T Tells Its Workers: Adapt, or Else

To Mr. Stephenson, it should be an easy choice for most workers: Learn new skills or find your career choices are very limited. “There is a need to retool yourself, and you should not expect to stop,” he said in a recent interview at AT&T’s Dallas headquarters. People who do not spend five to 10 hours a week in online learning, he added, “will obsolete themselves with the technology.” Kevin? He admires his younger brother, but he is among the many AT&T lifers who are not that keen to participate in this reinvention of old Ma Bell. “I’m riding the copper train all the way down,” he said. He talks about the changes with obvious affection for both his brother and his longtime employer. In interviews, many veteran AT&T employees around the country showed a surprising amount of emotion toward a company that has been broken up, rebuilt and reinvented several times.

If you don’t develop the new skills, you won’t be fired — at least AT&T won’t say as much — but you won’t have much of a future. The company isn’t too worried about people leaving, since executives estimate that eventually AT&T could get by with one-third fewer workers. Mr. Stephenson declined to project how many workers he might have by 2020, when the cloud-based system is supposed to be fully in place. One thing about cutting people in an aging work force, he noted, is that “demography is on our side.” Other senior executives say shrinking the work force by 30 percent is not out of the question. Maybe so, but count Kevin among the skeptics of how fast AT&T’s transformation will happen. “I’m proud of my brother,” he said, “but he’s not going to get rid of this stuff as fast as he thinks.”

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Feb 12, 2016

February 12, 2016 3 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are about average people (in the USA and other countries) getting screwed by duplicitous “leaders” and “experts” aka social scam artists.

Link 1: Watch Carrier Workers Find Out Their Jobs Are Moving to Mexico

Workers at a Carrier Air Conditioner plant in Indianapolis were summoned to a group assembly this week to be told their jobs would soon be moving to Monterrey, Mexico. In all, 1,400 jobs are expected to be lost. The moment was caught on video. “I want to be clear, this is strictly a business decision,” says the speaker, Carrier General Manager Chris Nelson, as the crowd erupts in anger. “This was an extremely difficult decision … It was most difficult because as I understand it will have an impact on all of you, your families, and the community.” Carrier is owned by United Technologies.

Link 2: Lawyers speak out about massive hack of prisoners phone records

Last fall, Bukowsky received an unexpected phone call related to McKim’s case. The call came from The Intercept, following our November 11, 2015, report on a massive hack of Securus Technologies, a Texas-based prison telecommunications company that does business with the Missouri Department of Corrections. As we reported at the time, The Intercept received a massive database of more than 70 million call records belonging to Securus and coming from prison facilities that used the company’s so-called Secure Call Platform. Leaked via SecureDrop by a hacker who was concerned that Securus might be violating prisoners’ rights, the call records span a 2 1/2-year period beginning in late 2011 (the year Securus won its contract with the Missouri DOC) and ending in the spring of 2014.

Link 3: Henry Kissinger’s War Crimes Are Central to the Divide Between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders

Some may only dimly recall that Kissinger won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the Vietnam War (comedian Tom Lehrer famously said the award made political satire obsolete) and that he played a central role in President Nixon’s opening of relations with China. But Kissinger is reviled by many left-leaning observers of foreign policy. They consider him an amoral egotist who enabled dictators, extended the Vietnam War, laid the path to the Khmer Rouge killing fields, stage-managed a genocide in East Timor, overthrew the democratically-elected left-wing government in Chile, and encouraged Nixon to wiretap his political adversaries.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Jan 27, 2016

January 27, 2016 2 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. Though they appear unrelated to each other, the articles are about the incompetence and maliciousness of all those supposedly “credentialed” and “trusted” experts- whether they are psychiatrists, nutritionists or administrators.

Link 1: The Vindicated Parents

The history of autism is not one in which expert opinion has covered itself in glory. Almost as soon as the condition was identified, psychiatry produced an explanation for it that was even more blithely indifferent to the need for proof than the anti-vaxxers have been: “Refrigerator mothers,” the medical establishment insisted—“mothers not loving their children enough”—are what turn children autistic. The main proponent of this theory, and the great villain of autism activism’s early years, was the sketchily credentialed Bruno Bettelheim, whose claim to the title of “doctor” resided in a degree in art history but who somehow managed to persuade the profession and the media that he was the foremost child psychologist in the land.

Autism parents, on top of coping with sometimes devastatingly disabled children—mute, seizing, self-harming, violent—were typically informed that this nightmare was all their own fault. The treatments recommended by Bettelheim and his followers ranged from ineffective (therapy to fix the mothers) to what we now realize is exactly the wrong approach: placing autistic kids in an unstructured and overstimulating environment to make up for the alleged deprivation and rigidity of their families of origin. All of this, cause and treatment, was decreed to parents with the force of categorical authority. It was largely autism parents, some of them medical professionals themselves, who in the course of the 1950s and 1960s would force the experts to change their minds- although Bettelheim fought hard against organic theories of autism’s origins to the bitter end.

Link 2: Why the calorie is broken

Measuring the calories in food itself relies on another modification of Lavoisier’s device. In 1848, an Irish chemist called Thomas Andrews realized that he could estimate calorie content by setting food on fire in a chamber and measuring the temperature change in the surrounding water. (Burning food is chemically similar to the ways in which our bodies break food down, despite being much faster and less controlled.) Versions of Andrews’s ‘bomb calorimeter’ are used to measure the calories in food today. At the Beltsville center, samples of the meatloaf, mashed potatoes and tomato juice have been incinerated in the lab’s bomb calorimeter. “We freeze-dry it, crush into a powder, and fire it,” says Baer. Humans are not bomb calorimeters, of course, and we don’t extract every calorie from the food we eat. This problem was addressed at the end of the 19th century, in one of the more epic experiments in the history of nutrition science.

There’s also the problem that no two people are identical. Differences in height, body fat, liver size, levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and other factors influence the energy required to maintain the body’s basic functions. Between two people of the same sex, weight and age, this number may differ by up to 600 calories a day—over a quarter of the recommended intake for a moderately active woman. Even something as seemingly insignificant as the time at which we eat may affect how we process energy. In one recent study, researchers found that mice fed a high-fat diet between 9am and 5pm gained 28 per cent less weight than mice fed the exact same food across a 24-hour period. The researchers suggested that irregular feedings affect the circadian cycle of the liver and the way it metabolizes food, thus influencing overall energy balance. Such differences would not emerge under the feeding schedules in the Beltsville experiments.

Link 3: Dystopia: When Walmart Is Supplying Your City’s Water

Anything is better than drinking lead-poisoned water. But when Walmart, Coca Cola, and Nestlé are the only ones stepping up and offering alternatives, the future looks pretty grim. Today, a coalition of America’s largest companies announced that it would be putting together a trucklift for Flint, collectively donating water to meet the needs of the city’s 10,000 school children for the rest of the calendar year. The companies are also encouraging others to support the Flint community through the nonprofit website Good360. This is all very good news for the water-strapped citizens of Flint. But you know who else depends on the likes of Walmart for safe drinking water? People living in third world countries that lack basic sanitation. Seriously now. Where the hell is the government? Where are people that landed Flint in this horrible public health crisis in the first place? Walmart has been donating water to Flint since July of 2015, and six months on, the taps are still churning out industrial waste. As The Atlantic points out, water donations from the entire state of Michigan don’t come close to the amount of clean water Walmart, Coke, Nestlé, and Pepsi have agreed to shore up—the equivalent of 6.5 million bottles.

What do you think? Comments?