March 13, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Self-Driving Cars Can't Cure Traffic, but Economics Can (Conor Dougherty, MARCH 8, 2017, NY Times)

[L]ondon, Singapore and Stockholm have all put in such systems effectively.

In the United States, the most common objection is that road pricing is regressive: Rich people get to drive alone while the masses huddle on a bus. Also, people just don't like paying for things that they are used to having free.

Economists are hoping that may change. Several states, including California, Texas and Minnesota, have added high-occupancy toll lanes with different pricing during rush hours.

"This idea of congestion pricing is not completely dismissed the way it once was," said Clifford Winston, an economist at the Brookings Institution.

Mr. Winston said the eventual introduction of self-driving cars would probably lessen consumer opposition to paying more to use roads during peak periods. Ride-hailing apps have taught consumers to accept surge pricing, and people are generally less resistant to paying for something new. The result would be something like variably priced lanes dedicated to fleets of robot vehicles.

If that happens, one of the hidden benefits of this revolutionary new technology will be that it got people to accept an idea that economists started talking about at least a century ago. And you get home a half-hour earlier.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Spicer: Trump didn't mean wiretapping when he tweeted about wiretapping (Jeremy Diamond, 3/13/17, CNN)

The White House on Monday walked back a key point of President Donald Trump's unsubstantiated allegation that President Barack Obama wiretapped his phones in Trump Tower during the 2016 election.

Namely, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump wasn't referring to wiretapping when he tweeted about wiretapping. [...]

Spicer also said that Trump was referring to the Obama administration broadly -- and not accusing Obama of personal involvement -- when he tweeted that "Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower" and accused Obama of being a "bad" or "sick guy."

To defend him is to make yourself seem a cretin.

Microwaves aren't spying on Trump (Jacob Kastrenakes  Mar 13, 2017, Wired)

Appliances that can be hacked to spy on you usually include a microphone or a camera, if not some other method for receiving data. But microwave ovens don't typically include either of those.

That means it would be up to the microwaves themselves -- the actual waves, that is -- to somehow create and transmit images. So is that possible?

"We image things with microwaves all the time, but not in the way that it sounds like she was implying," Robert McNees, a theoretical physicist at Loyola University Chicago, writes in an email to The Verge. "For instance, we make maps of the relic microwave radiation left over from the early universe. And I think I've heard of medical application of microwave imaging, too[.]"

But those applications are pretty far from what's happening inside a typical microwave. "With a regular, consumer microwave oven?" McNees asks. "That sounds far-fetched to me."

Wired asked a researcher who works on microwave imaging and got a similar response. "I can't conceive of an effective way to do any of it from your microwave oven," University of Massachusetts-Amherst researcher Stephen Frasier told the publication.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Republican health plan to make millions more uninsured (David Lawder, 3/13/17, Reuters)

Fourteen million Americans would lose medical insurance by next year under a Republican plan to dismantle Obamacare, the nonpartisan U.S. Congressional Budget Office said on Monday in a report that dealt a potential setback to President Donald Trump's first major legislative initiative.

The eagerly awaited CBO report also forecast that 24 million more people would be uninsured in 2026 if the plan being considered in the House of Representatives were adopted. Obamacare enabled about 20 million previously uninsured Americans to obtain medical insurance.

The CBO projected that 52 million people would be uninsured by 2026 if the bill became law, compared to 28 million who would not have coverage that year if former President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law remained unchanged.

Under the GOP plan, rural voters could be charged more for health insurance than they make in a year (Jeva Lange, 3/13/17, The Week)

An analysis of the Republican health-care proposal by the consulting firm Oliver Wyman has found that the overhaul would hit rural areas intensely, and in some cases consumers could even owe more for a plan than they make in a year. "In Nebraska's Chase County, a 62-year-old currently earning about $18,000 a year could pay nearly $20,000 annually to get health-insurance coverage under the House GOP plan," writes The Wall Street Journal. Under the Affordable Care Act, that same person would owe $760 a year toward premiums, the Journal notes.

"It is disproportionately affecting the rural," explained Dianna Welch, an actuary at Oliver Wyman. 

Sheep, meet shears.

Posted by orrinj at 11:37 AM


What Happens When Tech Takes Control of Evolution? (Raya Bidshahri, Dec 20, 2016, Singularity Hub)

Over the span of a few billion years, diversity of life has flourished on Earth through the process of natural selection. Then, not long ago (relatively), human intelligence evolved.

For the first time one species, Homo sapiens, could consciously control its destiny on this planet. Humans have been shaping ourselves, the environment and other species for thousands of years. Soon, we'll be able to fully control our own biology too, transcending our natural limitations.

According to roboticist and author Daniel Wilson, "You can graph human evolution, which is mostly a straight line, but we do get better and change over time, and you can graph technological evolution, which is a line that's going straight up. They are going to intersect each other at some point, and that's happening now."

Genetic engineering and neurotechnology are examples of fields shaping human evolution. Taking control of evolution means what was once a slow, random process will now be exponentially faster. Soon, we'll imagine what kind of a species we want to be and then become what we envision.

Posted by orrinj at 10:33 AM


Oil prices drop as hedge funds head for the exit (John Kemp, 3/13/17, Reuters)

Hedge funds and other money managers had barely started liquidating their record bullish position in crude oil futures and options before prices tumbled on March 8.

The critical question is how much more of the position will need to be liquidated before the market stabilizes again.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


The Left Might Have A Hard Time Replicating The Tea Party's Success (Clare Malone, 3/13/17, 538)

[T]he left doesn't necessarily have all the elements that the tea party did, elements that translated into electoral success in 2010. While the Trump resistance movement undoubtedly has enthusiasm, a number of structural differences from the conservative grassroots movement could lead to challenges down the road.

And the left has indeed been looking to the tea party template for inspiration. The authors of the now-popular "Indivisible" guide for the grassroots left to organize against Trump, specifically cite the success of the group in their call to action: "The authors of this guide are former congressional staffers who witnessed the rise of the tea party. ... We saw them organize locally and convince their own MoCs [members of Congress] to reject President Obama's agenda. Their ideas were wrong, cruel and tinged with racism -- and they won."

But what made the tea party successful, according to Theda Skocpol, a Harvard professor whose field studies of the tea party movement became a 2011 book, was a particular climate on the political right. "We thought of the tea party as a set of several intersecting forces that were leveraging each other and helping to build each other's clout to change and use the Republican Party," she said. Self-organizing grass-roots groups, top-down professional advocacy and money groups, such as FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, along with right-wing media, swirled together to make the movement a success, according to Skocpol. It remains to be seen if the climate on the left will prove to be hospitable for the growth of a similarly effective movement.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Anti-immigrant party gets knocked back in Australia, in crushing blow to government (Rachel Pannett and Mike Cherney, Mar 13, 2017, WSJ)

The global rise of nationalist politics suffered a setback in the heart of Australia's mining belt, as an anti-immigrant party won fewer votes than expected in state elections, contributing to a crushing loss for the government.

The Western Australia state branch of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's ruling Liberal Party joined with a controversial, right-wing firebrand in hopes her high profile would help avert an expected election defeat. The gamble backfired, with the conservatives losing office and Pauline Hanson's One Nation party securing less than 5% of the vote. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


Why President Trump is falling into a standard political trap (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, March 13, 2017, The Week)

[I] would suggest that Trump's biggest problem is actually one that most politicians face, which is not caring about the actual policy impact of their decisions. [...]

Take Obama's stimulus plan. The goal of the plan was to revive the economy in the depth of a recession by pouring lots of money in. The problem is that for so-called Keynesian stimulus to work, you have to spend all of the money at once -- think of it like an electroshock. But to please labor and environmentalist constituencies, Obama made sure his stimulus bill would mostly be spent on public works and pork projects like high-speed rail. What mattered was the idea of the stimulus -- being able to pass a big bill with a big price tag and being able to say that he had passed a big bill with a big price tag. The bill actually accomplishing its objectives was secondary. Obama was re-elected, but it was a close-run thing against a formidably weak opponent.

In France, Nicolas Sarkozy was a master of this. The agenda he ran on was very good; the problem was that he just didn't implement it. He lost re-election by a hair, in the context of an economic slump. If he had faced down protests early in his term to implement the kinds of labor market reforms he'd promised and that nearly all economists agree would have helped France, he almost certainly would have been re-elected. His cowardice wasn't just immoral. It was his undoing.

And so now, take the American Health Care Act, the House GOP's ObamaCare replacement bill that Trump is forcefully backing. Trump's goal is political: He wants to be able to take credit for passing a bill that "repeals and replaces" ObamaCare. But he got elected on a very different promise on health care: He said he would build a "great system" that would "cover everyone." The AHCA can't do that because it is designed with parliamentary-political kabuki in mind: It doesn't spend enough money to cover everyone to appease hard-right Republicans; at the same time, it doesn't go deep enough in terms of free-market reforms to actually change the system in a positive way, so as to not to turn off too many moderates.

There is an implicit contempt for voters at work here. The bill assumes that voters are just too dumb to notice its impact and need to be razzled-dazzled by PR. But it also assumes that policy doesn't actually change much. Both those assumptions are mistaken.

Which is why good presidents have been governors previously.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Trump Lets Key Offices Gather Dust Amid 'Slowest Transition in Decades' (JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS and SHARON LaFRANIERE, MARCH 12, 2017, NY Times)

Mr. Trump has insisted that the barren ranks of his government are not a shortcoming but the vanguard of a plan to cut the size of the federal bureaucracy. "A lot of those jobs, I don't want to appoint, because they're unnecessary to have," Mr. Trump told Fox News last month. "I say, 'What do all these people do?' You don't need all those jobs."

But the president has not proposed any plan for trimming crucial senior positions, and a White House spokeswoman, Lindsay E. Walters, said he eventually planned to fill them.

Mr. Trump's personnel problems are rooted in a dysfunctional transition effort that left him without a pool of nominees-in-waiting who had been screened for security and financial problems and were ready to be named on Day 1. In the weeks since, the problem has been compounded by roadblocks of his own making: a loyalty test that in some cases has eliminated qualified candidates, a five-year lobbying ban that has discouraged some of the most sought-after potential appointees, and a general sense of upheaval at the White House that has repelled many others.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM


EU To Extend Sanctions Over Crimea Annexation (Rikard Jozwiak, 3/13/17, Radio Liberty)

 The European Union is expected to extend sanctions against dozens of individuals and entities over Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 AM


Republican Congressman Steve King Tweets Approvingly About White Nationalism (Caroline Bankoff, 3/13/17, New York)

"Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny," King wrote. "We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies."