March 12, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Mueller's Choice of Criminal Charges: Why the Trump Team Should Be Very Worried (SAM BERGER, MARCH 12, 2018,  Just Security)

Ryan Goodman recently highlighted an important revelation contained in the memo written by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee: Not only had the Russians told the Trump campaign that they had dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails, but they had also previewed for George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser on the campaign, that they could help with disseminating them.

Goodman and the experts he spoke with identified four types of actions that could create criminal liability for the Trump team stemming from this new information: if the campaign consulted with the Russians on their plans to disseminate the emails, if the Trump campaign gave tacit assent or approval or support, if Trump officials intentionally encouraged the Russians, or if they sought to conceal the facts of a crime. Just looking at the publicly available information shows the outlines of a potential legal case against members of the Trump team along these very lines.

As campaign finance law expert Paul S. Ryan points out, campaigns cannot coordinate with foreign nationals on any expenditure that seeks to influence a U.S. election. Coordination includes cooperation, consultation, or acting in concert with, or at the request or suggestion of the candidate or his team. A key word is or--each of those actions could independently suffice to establish a violation.

The emails to set up the now infamous June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting contain a particularly incriminating piece of evidence on this score. While significant focus has been given to Donald Trump Jr.'s enthusiastic response to the offer of damaging information on Clinton as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump," equal attention should be paid to the rest of his response, in which he says that such information would be helpful "especially later in the summer." In this statement, Trump Jr. was not only communicating a willingness to collude with Russia; he was also telling them when the campaign thought the release of such information would be most politically useful. What's more, as Bob Bauer has noted, when Trump Jr. told the Russian lawyer the information that she presented on Clinton-related donors was not valuable, he "aided the Russians by providing access to its judgments about attacks that would be ineffective." That too was a form of consultation and assistance.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


Bannon encouraging populists to embrace 'racist' label confirms belief about the worldview he brought to the White House (Eugene Scott March 12, 2018, Washington Post)

After many voters were drawn to Trump's calling Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers, their critics claimed that the populism eventually articulated by former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon was grounded in ethnocentrism.

This past weekend, Bannon, who has increasingly been connecting with nationalist leaders around the world who share his politics, encouraged those who share his worldview to embrace accusations of racism.

While speaking Saturday at a gathering of the far-right French National Front party, Bannon told the gathering they should be proud of being accused of racism.

"Let them call you racists," Bannon said. "Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honor."

Not that there's ever been any doubt about hat the Trumpbots are.  It's why they're willing to excuse all the corruption.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


One Hundred Years Later, the Madness of Daylight Saving Time Endures (Michael Downing, 3/09/18, SMITHSONIAN.COM)

Today we know that changing the clocks does influence our behavior. For example, later sunset times have dramatically increased participation in afterschool sports programs and attendance at professional sports events. In 1920, The Washington Post reported that golf ball sales in 1918 - the first year of daylight saving - increased by 20 percent.

And when Congress extended daylight saving from six to seven months in 1986, the golf industry estimated that extra month was worth as much as $400 million in additional equipment sales and green fees. To this day, the Nielsen ratings for even the most popular television shows decline precipitously when we spring forward, because we go outside to enjoy the sunlight.

But the promised energy savings - the presenting rationale for the policy - have never materialized.

In fact, the best studies we have prove that Americans use more domestic electricity when they practice daylight saving. Moreover, when we turn off the TV and go to the park or the mall in the evening sunlight, Americans don't walk. We get in our cars and drive. Daylight saving actually increases gasoline consumption, and it's a cynical substitute for genuine energy conservation policy.

Lawmakers in Florida, of all places, ought to know that year-round daylight saving is not such a bright idea - especially in December and January, when most residents of the Sunshine State won't see sunrise until about 8 a.m.

On Jan. 8, 1974, Richard Nixon forced Floridians and the entire nation into a year-round daylight saving - a vain attempt to stave off an energy crisis and lessen the impact of an OPEC oil embargo.

But before the end of the first month of daylight saving that January, eight children died in traffic accidents in Florida, and a spokesperson for Florida's education department attributed six of those deaths directly to children going to school in darkness.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


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Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


Basic Income in a Just Society (BRISHEN ROGERS, 5/15/17, Boston Review)

Consider the life of a truck driver forty years ago versus today. In 1976 long-haul truck drivers had a powerful, if flawed, union in the Teamsters and enjoyed middle-class wages and excellent benefits. They also had a remarkable degree of autonomy, giving the job a cowboy or outlaw image. Drivers had to track their hours carefully, of course, and submit to weigh stations and other inspections of their trucks. But dispatchers could not reach them while they were on the road, since CB radios have limited range. Truckers would call in from pay phones, if they wanted. 

No longer. Trucking companies today monitor drivers closely through "telematics" devices that gather and analyze data on their location, driving speed, and delivery efficiency. Some even note when a driver turns the truck on before fastening his seat belt, thereby wasting gas. As sociologist Karen Levy has shown, some long-haul trucking companies use telematics to push drivers to drive for all the hours permitted per day under federal law, at times waking them up or even overriding drivers' own judgments about whether it is safe to drive. UPS has used the technologies to reduce its stock of drivers, and many have noted the stress that "metrics-based harassment" puts on workers.

While the specter of self-driving vehicles is out there, this is the current reality for many drivers and will be for the foreseeable future. We have seen stunning advances in autonomous vehicles in recent years, but there is a vast difference between driving on a highway or broad suburban streets in good weather conditions and navigating narrow and pothole-filled city streets, not to mention making the actual delivery to houses, apartments, and businesses. As labor economist David Autor and others have argued, we are nowhere close to fully automated production or distribution of goods, since so many jobs involve nonrepetitive tasks. In other words, the reports of the death of work have been greatly exaggerated.

Technological development is nevertheless altering the political economy of labor markets in profound ways. As we can see in the truck driver example, many firms are deploying information technologies to erode workers' conditions and bargaining power without displacing them.

And of course truck drivers are not alone. Many other firms today use advanced information technologies to push for more efficiency, in the process reducing workers' discretion, ultimately requiring them to work harder, faster, and for less. For example, where once taxi drivers' folk knowledge of the optimal path from A to B in a crowded city was a valuable skill, now Uber and Lyft can calculate the best route through GPS technology and machine learning processes based on data gleaned from hundreds of thousands of trips.

Other technological innovations make it easier--which is to say more efficient--to purchase labor without entering formal employment relationships and accepting the attendant legal duties. In the past firms tended to employ workers rather than contractors, or to pay employees above-market wages, in scenarios where it was difficult to train or monitor them. Workers who felt valued in this way would work diligently and remain loyal toward firms, ultimately reducing overall labor costs.

Again Uber's model helps illustrate. The company's app reduces consumers' and drivers' search costs significantly. Rapid scalability reduces Uber's costs of identifying and contracting with new drivers and riders; its GPS-based monitoring of its drivers enables it to know whether they are speeding or otherwise driving carelessly and whether they are accepting a sufficient number of fares; and its customer rating system enables it to manage an enormous workforce without managerial supervision. The net result is an economic organization of global scope based largely on contract where the firm disclaims any employment relationship toward its workers and therefore any employment duties toward them.

To be clear, there are powerful arguments that Uber drivers meet the legal test for employment, given the company's pervasive control of their work and its economic power over them. But given the ambiguities of current law, Uber has few economic incentives to bring drivers inside the firm, making them employees, or to extend them generous wage and benefit packages. Similarly Amazon's analytics help it to keep wages low: with barcode scanners tracking pickers' and packers' efficiency, the company does not have to pay workers as well to keep them motivated.

Finally, extensive data about market structures and consumer demand can enable firms to exert power over their suppliers or contractual partners, driving down costs--and therefore wages and conditions--through their supply chains. Walmart has long leveraged its unparalleled market data to estimate the lowest possible price suppliers will accept for goods, putting downward pressure on their profits and their workers' wages. Amazon does the same today, and franchisors such as McDonald's set prices and detailed product specifications for their franchisees.

Many firms today have substituted algorithmic scheduling for middle-managers' local knowledge, using data on past sales, local events, and even weather forecasts to schedule work shifts. A Starbucks employee, for example, has little schedule predictability since she is at the mercy of the algorithm, and a McDonald's worker can be sent home early if computers say sales are slow. This push to limit labor costs through finely tuned scheduling practices also alters workplace norms, since workers cannot appeal to a computer's emotions in asking for more or less time, a raise, or a slower pace of work. The net effect of all of this is that power in our labor and product markets is increasingly concentrated in a few hands.

Crucially such management techniques and new production strategies are often more efficient than the status quo. Amazon has undeniably lowered prices for goods through its use of automation. Similarly a recent MIT study calculated that just three thousand multi-passenger cabs using a version of Uber's algorithm could serve Manhattan's need for taxis. The potential benefits here are staggering, especially if coupled with a modern mass transit system: shorter commutes, less car ownership, less pollution, and more urban space.

But the line between innovation and exploitation is far from clear. While some workers will thrive as their unique skills and talents are rewarded by new technologies, many others will have less autonomy, less generous wages, less time for social connection, and unpredictable schedules.

And the point of an economy is to create wealth more efficiently, not to maximize labor.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


Nick Kyrgios: talent to burn (Richard Cooke, March 2018, The Monthly)

Most professional athletes are obsessed with winning, or at least with not losing. This fixation almost always predates them becoming a professional, and sometimes even comes before playing serious sport. It is pronounced in tennis players, and especially pronounced in Nick Kyrgios. He approaches everything from the men's tour to the video game Call of Duty with the same obsessional thirst for competition, and has done ever since he was an overweight, asthmatic kid playing juniors in Canberra.

This trait is unexceptional for a tennis player, possibly even a requirement, but in Kyrgios it is extreme, and sits uncomfortably with the rest of his personality, which is surprisingly collegiate, fair, funny and empathetic. (You might miss these features on a tennis court.) He has been open about this contradiction, and unusually good at describing it. "There is a constant tug-of-war between the competitor within me wanting to win, win, win," he wrote for PlayersVoice in 2017, "and the human in me wanting to live a normal life with my family away from the public glare."

This drive helped him become the youngest player to hold a position in the men's top hundred ATP rankings. On his first encounters with Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, he beat them all. He will be 23 in April, but sometimes talks as though he is a veteran and a little envious of younger players for their freedom and untested confidence. He retains his own freedom by playing tennis with a degree of flair, spontaneity and expressiveness that often borders on the unwise: "tweeners" - shots hit between the legs - are a signature, and representative of a repertoire that extends to round-the-netpost shots and speculative drop shots from behind the baseline. His frank cross-court forehand slap works around 2 per cent of the time, but is one of the most spectacular shots in tennis when it does.

He is the best Australian player in a generation, and somehow this is considered an underachievement. His former coach Josh Eagle revealed Kyrgios could maintain a position just outside the top 20 while doing less than 15 minutes' practice a day. Instead he played basketball and video games, and let his quick hands and reflexes pick up the slack.

He injured his hip, shoulder, knee, ankle, back and elbow, sometimes while playing basketball. He earned almost $6 million in prize money, and paid almost $100,000 in fines. Forbes magazine rated him the most fun tennis player in the world to watch, but not the easiest to watch. Many of those fines accrued in strings of code violations, and some were for moments his half-hearted effort dropped to a no-hearted effort. He admitted to deliberately "tanking" in perhaps eight professional tournaments.

He became famous for meltdowns. When the pressure of talent and competition and winning became too acute, he forfeited or gave up. In his second-round match at the Australian Open in 2017, where he led Andreas Seppi two sets to love, he announced "I didn't sign up for this bullshit" during the third set, received a code violation, and left the court two and a half sets later to the sound of home-crowd booing. He also beat opponents without pleasure, and shook his head after hitting winners.

He was called a brat, a sulking brat, a peanut, a disgrace, a shame, a galoot, and the most talented tennis player of the past decade. (John McEnroe made both the "sulking brat" and the "most talented" comments.) Chinese commentators used a phrase that means "to sink into oblivion".

There was a time when a Nick Kyrgios press conference could feel like an intervention, or a parole board hearing. Press conferences are on his long list of dislikes, which includes noise, late line calls, umpires, late challenges, fans arriving late, phone calls, birds, ball boys not handing him a towel quickly enough, and, periodically, tennis. He mixes disdain for media calls with a painful degree of disclosure. There were times he didn't so much wear his heart on his sleeve as display it clinically, as though on an autopsy table. He questioned his commitment. "I don't really like the sport of tennis that much," he told the UK's Independent newspaper.

No one does.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 AM


We X-Rayed Some MLB Baseballs. Here's What We Found. (Rob Arthur and Tim Dix, Mar. 1, 2018, 538)

Independent investigations by FiveThirtyEight, publications like The Ringer, and Nathan himself have shown differences in the characteristics of the ball and the way it performs. Research has shown that balls used in games after the 2015 All-Star Game were bouncier and less air resistant compared with baseballs from the 2014 season, when players hit a relatively modest 4,186 homers, the fewest since 1995. (Nathan noted that MLB does not regularly measure air resistance.) Taken together, these changes would result in a ball that would come off the bat at a higher speed and carry farther. While investigations have been able to show that the baseball behaves differently in recent years, no one had looked inside the ball to see if there was evidence of changes to the way the baseball is constructed.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


Meet the robot lending a cyber-hand to Cornwall's cauliflower harvest (Sarah Knapton, 3 MARCH 2018, The Telegraph)

Harvesting a cauliflower is not as simple as it looks.

First it must be deemed firm, compact and white, before being gently prised from its main stem to prevent bruising, and plucked with a few outer leaves still attached to protect the head.

So when scientists were looking for a robotic helper capable of taking on Britain's brassica crop, they chose to mimic a tried and tested tool - the human hand.

The University of Plymouth is currently working in cauliflower fields in Cornwall to see if a fleet of smart robots could fill gaps in labour market and help cut costs.

Manual labour can represent around half of total costs of agriculture and can sometimes be in short supply, particularly around harvest. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 AM


Behind the scenes, MLB's youth movement has broad consequences (J.P. HOORNSTRA,  March 7, 2018, Daily News)

After three weeks and two days, a training camp for baseball's unsigned free agents will close its doors Friday. According to the Associated Press, 41 players attended the camp in Bradenton, Fla. Only seven found employment. Other veterans such as Mike Moustakas, Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn and Andre Ethier have been training on their own while exhibition games began without them.

The offseason was a time for reflection. The supply of unsigned players was exceeded only by the supply of opinions as to how the market had changed and why. Once the games began, however, this was no longer a story about supply and demand. It was a story of aesthetics.

The average age of the major league hitter decreased from 29.3 in 2004 to 28.3 in 2017. The average age of pitchers fell too - not as pronounced, but following the same broad trend - from 29.2 in 2005 to 28.5 a year ago. Now, the average age is roughly in line with the 1980s and early 1990s, before the size of the league and the size of the players grew.

The majority of unsigned major league free agents are in their 30s. [...]

Craig Counsell caught himself mid-thought.

"The PED era fooled us a little bit," he said, and a smile quickly crept over his face.