Burgers For The Buns In The Oven( 13 )

I marvel when I consider the layers of approval this must have gone through without anybody thinking it’s a bad idea.

Burger King, within the framework of social responsibility, has appointed a reward for girls who get pregnant from the stars of world football. Each will receive 3 million rubles, and a lifelong supply of Whoppers. For these girls, it will be possible to get the best football genes, and will lay down the success of the Russian national team on several generations ahead. Forward! We believe in you!

Or maybe, for Russians, it isn’t, and they merely regret that we heard about it over here?

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Starbucks to Close Stores Amid Competition, Controversy( 0 )

Starbucks continues to be in the news for all the wrong reasons. After public controversies and new competition rising to meet the coffee giant, Starbucks is looking to streamline 150 stores, mostly in urban areas.

CBS:

The Seattle-based company announced Tuesday that it will close 150 underperforming stores in heavily penetrated markets, up from the usual rate of 50 closings a year.

Starbucks now operates about 13,900 locations in the U.S., putting it within sipping distance of the 14,400 restaurants operated by McDonald’s. In the past year, Starbucks has opened almost 1,000 new stores in the Americas, which includes the U.S., Canada and Latin America. One analyst estimates that new stores may be cannibalizing traffic from existing stores, potentially diverting 1 out of 7 transactions.

Competition from rivals like McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts is heating up, said Bernstein analyst Sara Senatore in a research note.
“Intensified competition in the slushy coffee category is exacerbating the shift towards health and wellness weighing on Frappuccino demand,” she wrote. “Starbucks will focus on Teavana drinks and other more healthful options in its core offering, which it views as ‘more differentiated.'”

The old joke of “a Starbucks on every corner” might be slowing down, but the issues of growing too fast are not new for the coffee giant. CEO Howard Schultz returned to the company during the last period of adjustment, and his current retirement from the company has a familiar feel to it.

Bloomberg:

For the ubiquitous chain, moving slower and shutting unprofitable stores may trigger some deja vu. In 2008, longtime leader Howard Schultz returned to the company that was struggling after expanding too quickly across the U.S., giving competitors like McDonald’s Corp. a chance to elbow back into breakfast. Investors cheered as Schultz retook the helm and closed some underperforming stores, and share prices at the chain have been up eight of the last 10 years. So far this year through Tuesday’s close, shares have been essentially flat.

But now, with Schultz stepping back from his beloved company, the task of the righting the ship will fall to Johnson, who took over as a CEO just over a year ago. Schultz, who had already transitioned away from running the coffee chain’s day-to-day operations, announced earlier this month he’d be leaving the company, fueling speculation he could be gearing up for a political career. Veteran retailing executive Myron Ullman is taking over as the new head of the board as Schultz departs.

While Schultz had been trying to expand the Seattle company’s premium business, dubbed Reserve, along with Italian bakery Princi, analysts have speculated that these may be put on the back burner under the new leadership. The company is also facing a resurgent McDonald’s, which has been advertising $2 cold-brew coffees, along with other steep discounts from fast-food rivals.
“The competitive environment has really become a lot stronger in the U.S. and a lot of that is the fast-food chains really improving the quality and breadth of their offerings in terms of hot beverages and breakfast,” said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Jennifer Bartashus. Americans can “get that same flavor profile at a much lower price somewhere else. That becomes an area of concern for Starbucks.”

Starbucks has also faced backlash this spring after two black men were arrested at one of its stores in Philadelphia while waiting for a meeting to begin. The company and Johnson apologized, calling the arrests “reprehensible.” Last month, Starbucks closed about 8,000 cafes so its employees could undergo racial-bias training, which did hurt sales in the quarter, Johnson said. After stores reopened following the May 29 training, sales have started to rebound at U.S. locations, with the chain expecting domestic same-store sales growth of around 3 percent in June, according to the company.

Regardless of where folks fall on the controversy it’s clear the issues and publicity have Starbucks reacting, both in policy and in its bottom line.

The company also said it expects 1 percent growth in global sales for the third quarter, a period that encompassed an uproar over the arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks. Starbucks closed its U.S. stores on May 29 to conduct racial-bias training for its employees.

CEO Kevin Johnson told investors the company halted its marketing campaign for cold beverages while it addressed with controversy, which may have affected sales.

Starbucks shares slipped nearly 2 percent in after-hours trading.

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President Trump Signs Executive Order on Border Separations( 16 )

After days of controversy over the “border separation” policy, President Trump has signed an executive order addressing the policy, while calling for Congress to also act.

ABC News:

President Donald Trump, under growing pressure to act unilaterally to address the immigration crisis, Wednesday signed an exeutive order that he said would keep immigrant families at the border together.

Trump said he didn’t like the sight of families being separated, according to a pool report. He said the “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting everyone who tries to cross the border illegally would continue.

“It’s about keeping families together,” Trump said, “while ensuring we have a powerful, very strong border.”

“I think the word ‘compassion’ comes into it,” he said. “My wife feels strongly about it. I feel strongly about it. Anybody with a heart would feel this way,” he added.

“We have to maintain toughness, or our country will be overrun by people, by crime, by all of the things that we don’t stand for, that we don’t want,” Trump said earlier Wednesday when he announced he would be signing the order.

Full Text from Whitehouse.gov:

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. 1101 et seq., it is hereby ordered as follows:
Section 1. Policy. It is the policy of this Administration to rigorously enforce our immigration laws. Under our laws, the only legal way for an alien to enter this country is at a designated port of entry at an appropriate time. When an alien enters or attempts to enter the country anywhere else, that alien has committed at least the crime of improper entry and is subject to a fine or imprisonment under section 1325(a) of title 8, United States Code. This Administration will initiate proceedings to enforce this and other criminal provisions of the INA until and unless Congress directs otherwise. It is also the policy of this Administration to maintain family unity, including by detaining alien families together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources. It is unfortunate that Congress’s failure to act and court orders have put the Administration in the position of separating alien families to effectively enforce the law.
Sec. 2. Definitions. For purposes of this order, the following definitions apply:
(a) “Alien family” means
(i) any person not a citizen or national of the United States who has not been admitted into, or is not authorized to enter or remain in, the United States, who entered this country with an alien child or alien children at or between designated ports of entry and who was detained; and
(ii) that person’s alien child or alien children.
(b) “Alien child” means any person not a citizen or national of the United States who
(i) has not been admitted into, or is not authorized to enter or remain in, the United States;
(ii) is under the age of 18; and
(iii) has a legal parent-child relationship to an alien who entered the United States with the alien child at or between designated ports of entry and who was detained.
Sec. 3. Temporary Detention Policy for Families Entering this Country Illegally. (a) The Secretary of Homeland Security (Secretary), shall, to the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations, maintain custody of alien families during the pendency of any criminal improper entry or immigration proceedings involving their members.
(b) The Secretary shall not, however, detain an alien family together when there is a concern that detention of an alien child with the child’s alien parent would pose a risk to the child’s welfare.
(c) The Secretary of Defense shall take all legally available measures to provide to the Secretary, upon request, any existing facilities available for the housing and care of alien families, and shall construct such facilities if necessary and consistent with law. The Secretary, to the extent permitted by law, shall be responsible for reimbursement for the use of these facilities.
(d) Heads of executive departments and agencies shall, to the extent consistent with law, make available to the Secretary, for the housing and care of alien families pending court proceedings for improper entry, any facilities that are appropriate for such purposes. The Secretary, to the extent permitted by law, shall be responsible for reimbursement for the use of these facilities.
(e) The Attorney General shall promptly file a request with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to modify the Settlement Agreement in Flores v. Sessions, CV 85-4544 (“Flores settlement”), in a manner that would permit the Secretary, under present resource constraints, to detain alien families together throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings for improper entry or any removal or other immigration proceedings.
Sec. 4. Prioritization of Immigration Proceedings Involving Alien Families. The Attorney General shall, to the extent practicable, prioritize the adjudication of cases involving detained families.
Sec. 5. General Provisions. (a) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
(i) the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or
(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
(b) This order shall be implemented in a manner consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.
(c) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
DONALD J. TRUMP
THE WHITE HOUSE,
June 20, 2018.

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Bugs on the Eastern Front Terrorize World Cup( 0 )

General Mud and General Winter have long been the defenders of the Russian Motherland from foreign invaders, or so the mythology goes. Perhaps its time to add General Insect, as the World Cup is finding out in Russia.

New York Times:

City officials have reportedly been spraying Volgograd Arena and the nearby marshlands with insecticide for the last few days, to little avail. Apparently bugs are a regular feature of the Volgograd summer, due to warm air and fertile breeding grounds in the Volga River. But no one seems to have issued any particular advance warning to the visitors who came to watch England’s 2-1 victory over Tunisia in the first World Cup match in this city, in the Russian southeast.

If the situation was untenable during the day on Monday, when the temperatures climbed into the 90s, it certainly improved by the time the game started, at 9 p.m. But the bugs were still there, at times deploying their own kind of teamwork by massing together and attacking as a unit.

Players could be seen waving their arms futilely in front of their faces during play. So could many fans, who were not allowed to bring liquids into the stadium and had to go bug spray-less. A reporter for a German TV station resorted to protective netting around her head.

No one was happy (except maybe the bugs themselves, with all those new victims in town). Presumably, Tunisians are as discomfited by insects to the same degree as English people are. But characteristically, the English news media interpreted the situation as a kind of national affront disproportionately affecting its own players — and its own reporters.

The Sky correspondent Kaveh Solhekol, for instance, tweeted that he had to abort a live broadcast at the last minute after being swarmed by “an invasion of flies” outside the England team’s hotel.

Washington Post:

The bugs, a frequent issue in the city, are so prevalent that helicopters have been deployed to spray insecticide on Volgograd Arena, the site of four games over the course of the tournament. The choppers will also spray marshlands on the outskirts of the Volga River, which flows through the city.

How bad is it?

“They are on your face, stick to your lips, get inside your nostrils, your ears and your hair,” BBC Sport’s Natalie Pirks said. “I’ve had to debug myself at bedtime as you find dead ones you’ve splatted in the strangest of places.”

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Whither Small Talk( 4 )

Another question not to ask?

It’s holiday season, a time of year for celebration.

So here’s a friendly reminder that “holiday” and “celebration” need not be synonyms for “drinking.”

Canadians are big drinkers, consuming 50 per cent more alcohol than the global average. Our reputation as a nation of beer drinkers is well earned. The average Canadian adult knocks back 76 litres of beer, 16 litres of wine, five litres of spirits and four litres of other alcoholic beverages annually. But averages don’t tell the whole story.

There are about 22 million Canadians who consume alcohol. Roughly 3.1 million people drink to the point of risking immediate physical harm (often binge drinking), and another 4.4 million drink to excess so routinely that they suffer chronic health problems as a result. Drinking is not always good fun.

One in four Canadian adults is a teetotaler – seven million in total – and that number is growing. The holidays can be hellish for them, given the relentless social pressure to imbibe and the constant interrogations. There are many reasons people don’t drink. None of them are any of your business.

I understand where the writer is coming from here, especially when it comes to questions like “Are you an alcoholic?” (way out of bounds) but while I don’t doubt that it’s an uncomfortable subject for some, almost anything is an uncomfortable subject for some.

Another question I’ve heard that it’s not polite to ask is if you have kids because what if they’re trying and having trouble? I can actually sympathize with that, but the world can’t stop for them any more than there is no safe space after a miscarriage. “Are you trying” is a little more personal and therefore a slightly stronger argument can be made, but I’m not sure eggshells are appropriate.

But when we meet people, we have to have stuff to talk about. There is only so much we can put out of bounds. What I guess we need is a better protocol for “I’ve answered your question can we move on now?”

Photo by Brian Lane Winfield Moore Whither Small Talk

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Humans Weren’t Meant To Live In Cities( 47 )

Science says so:

The study found that people in general were less happy in areas of greater population density. The report’s authors see this is as support for the savannah theory because we would naturally feel uneasy in larger groups if — as evidence they cite suggests — our brains evolved for functioning in groups of about 150 people {…}

The study discovered, though, that the negative effect of the presence of lots of people is more pronounced among people of average intelligence. They propose that our smartest ancestors were better able to adapt to larger groups on the savannah due to a greater strategic flexibility and innate ingenuity, and so their descendants feel less stressed by urban environments today.

And you can’t argue with science.

That wasn’t the only interesting finding, though. Even while they were better at adapting at being around a lot of people, they were also… better off alone?

The data they analyzed supports the assumption that good friendships — and a few good ones is better than lots of weaker ones — do significantly increase life satisfaction for most people.

In highly intelligent people, though, the finding is reversed: Smart people feel happier alone than when others, even good friends, are around. A “healthy” social life actually leaves highly intelligent people with less life satisfaction. Is it because their desires are more aspirational and goal-oriented, and other people are annoyingly distracting?

That they’re better at being alone than the normals would not be surprising because maybe they’re just more adaptable around a lot or no people. Interesting that they’re happier that way, though.

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Manafort Ordered to Jail( 54 )

Paul Manafort is in custody after a US District court judge ruled he had violated the terms of his pre-trial release. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation had filed additional charges alleging Manafort had attempted to tamper with witnesses in the six months of house arrest.

Buzzfeed:

US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson announced the ruling in court Friday. Manafort was immediately taken into custody. He appeared calm. He was led to a nonpublic area behind the courtroom, turning to briefly wave at his wife before going back.
Jackson found that in light of the new allegations from special counsel Robert Mueller’s office that Manafort and his longtime associate Konstantin Kilimnik had repeatedly attempted to call and text two former business associates starting in February — an effort that one of those associates told an investigator he understood to be an effort to “suborn perjury — she could not craft release conditions that she thought would be sufficient to protect the community. Manafort did not pose a physical danger, she said, but he presented a danger to “the administration of justice.”

“I cannot turn a blind eye to these allegations … You have abused the trust placed in you six months ago,” Jackson said.
Jackson denied a request by Manafort’s lawyer to put her order on hold to give the defense an opportunity to appeal her decision, a request that special counsel prosecutor Greg Andres opposed. Jackson said she was concerned that in light of her order, Manafort’s risk of flight had just “multiplied.”

Jackson rejected a request by Manafort’s lawyer to consider imposing a clearer “no contact” order covering his communications going forward in lieu of incarceration, arguing he had “largely” been in compliance with her pretrial release conditions until now.

“This is not middle school. I can’t take his cell phone,” Jackson said.

CBS News:

He was in court to face superseding charges accusing him of witness tampering, charges to which he pleaded not guilty. Manafort had previously been out on bail on house arrest, but the government requested that his bail be revoked.
Special counsel Robert Mueller has brought additional charges against Manafort and longtime associate Konstantin Kilimnik, accusing them of obstructing justice.

The new charges were unsealed last week against Paul Manafort and Kilimnik, who worked in the Ukraine offices of Manafort’s firm, Davis Manafort Partners International (DMI). Mueller is accusing Manafort and Kilimnik of tampering with two witnesses. Manafort is awaiting trial in federal court in Washington and Virginia on felony charges related to his work on behalf of Ukrainian interests.

The witnesses, who had worked with Manafort as he represented a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine, have told the FBI that they believed Manafort and Kilimnik were trying to get them to lie about the nature of their work.

US District Court Judge Jackson was not impressed with Mr. Manafort’s conduct:

Jackson chastised Manafort for his behavior in the case over the previous months, noting it was not the first time she had to address his compliance with her rules. Earlier in the hearing, she had pointed to a previous incident in which prosecutors accused Manafort of violating Jackson’s order against making public statements prejudicial to the case, citing his role in editing an op-ed that ran in a Ukrainian newspaper about his case. Jackson did not find him in violation of the order, but warned him to be careful going forward.

The judge said she was troubled that Manafort seemed “to treat these proceedings as just another marketing exercise.”

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“Classical” Thoughts on Solving Urban Planning( 12 )

The growth of cities, and what to do to about housing both affordable and otherwise, is a never-ending debate. Clive Aslet argues that a least some thought-if not outright guidance-of this newest version of an old problem should have a place for “a constant—indeed inevitable—theme of classical architecture”; the classical revival.

The Future of Classicism by Clive Aslet From The New Criterion

Cities are one of the big issues facing the planet. Hundreds of new cities are expected to be created across Africa and Asia in the course of the next century. Researchers believe that, if current population trends continue, Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, could develop into a vast, sprawling metropolis of over eighty-five million people. Niger has the highest birth rate in Africa; Niamey, its capital, is expected to explode in size, from less than one million people to forty-six million by 2100. Unfortunately, the urban expansion that has already taken place across the developing world has been ramshackle. Much of it has taken the form of shanty towns, where groups of shacks are crowded together with little sanitation or governance. This is brewing an obvious problem. The example of the West is, alas, little more encouraging. Much new development takes the form of suburban sprawl, which is wasteful of precious land, and has little character of its own. Young people are frustrated because they cannot break out of parental nests; the elderly feel isolated. And yet the pressure to build more housing—for reasons of immigration, increased life expectancy, and the creation of more households due to divorce—will increase, not abate. The need for master-planning has never been greater.

Master-planning is not the exclusive preserve of the classical movement. But following the public disgust at the failure of the tower blocks of the mid-twentieth century (in Britain, Grenfell Tower, a tower in North Kensington which burned in 2017 in a catastrophe apparently caused by the attachment of cladding intended to remedy some original defects of the specification, has become a cause célèbre), the Corbusian vision is dead. So modernism has borrowed the language of classicism: there is now hardly a wafer to put between Foster + Partners and Prince Charles. Both advocate sustainable neighborhoods, which have strong senses of local identity, and where people can walk, bicycle, or use public transport; communal streets, where neighbors meet each other going in and out of local shops, are good, selfish motorcars bad. But the visual results will be different. Modernism is not naturally local—it’s international. Nor is it human in scale—it favors the big, the spectacular, the mass-produced. But classicism has for centuries been making the towns and cities that—in Britain at least—house prices suggest people most want to live in. Its principles are universal, being based on the human form. But the classical language has dialects that differ from place to place. It is comfortable with traditional building technologies; this makes it particularly suited to less prosperous parts of the globe. Here is demand, on an epic scale, and here, too, the solution. It is appropriate that classicism should occupy a niche—or as one might term it, an aedicule. But there could be a great destiny for practitioners who climb.

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Giving Up Your Seat( 14 )

When You Can and Cannot Say ‘No’ When Someone Asks to Switch Seats With You on an Airplane

Duane Pickering, a 58-year-old flight attendant from Milwaukee, agrees, saying it’s entirely within a passenger’s right to decline an offer. “It’s up to them, really. It’s their seat, they paid for it, and if they don’t want to move, they don’t have to,” he says.

But as Roscoe and Del Rey articulate, there’s still considerable social pressure on the person to say yes. It’s hard to look a person in the eye and tell them no, you will not let them sit next to their loved one or their small child, even if it means wedging into the middle seat, in the back row of the plane, between two meaty dudes who have already established dominion over your armrests.

Not to mention, Masterson says she’s seen some passengers get noticeably angry and start swearing when their request for a seat change is rebuffed. “I’ve had to step in and say, ‘Ma’am that’s their seat, and they don’t have to change,’” she says.

My policy is that I will only ask if it’s the same type of seat, which is okay according to the rules. Of course, I won’t even usually ask then.

We had a different sort of situation when we recently flew. A guy was trying to save his (exit row) seat for his girlfriend… but you can’t save a seat on a plane. My wife called him on it and was called a “nasty bitch”… but we did get the seat.

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Teaching Philosophy to Weaponized AI( 26 )

The philosophical questions of morality in warfare are as old as recorded human history. With the rise of AI, drones, and technology, those age-old questions are only getting more complicated.

“When it comes to AI and weapons, the tech world needs philosophers” by Ryan Jenkins
Washington Post:

What’s harder is figuring out, going forward, where to draw the line — to determine what, exactly, “cause” and “directly facilitate” mean, and how those limitations apply to Google projects. To find the answers, Google, and the rest of the tech industry, should look to philosophers, who’ve grappled with these questions for millennia. Philosophers’ conclusions, derived over time, will help Silicon Valley identify possible loopholes in its thinking about ethics.

The realization that we can’t perfectly codify ethical rules dates at least to Aristotle, but we’re familiar with it in our everyday moral experience, too. We know we ought not lie, but what if it’s done to protect someone’s feelings? We know killing is wrong, but what if it’s done in self-defense? Our language and concepts seem hopelessly Procrustean when applied to our multifarious moral experience. The same goes for the way we evaluate the uses of technology.

In the case of Project Maven, or weapons technology, in general, how can we tell whether artificial intelligence facilitates injury or prevents it?

The Pentagon’s aim in contracting with Google was to develop AI to classify objects in drone video footage. In theory, at least, the technology could be used to reduce civilian casualties that result from drone strikes. But it’s not clear whether this falls afoul of Google’s guidelines. Imagine, for example, that artificial intelligence classifies an object, captured by a drone’s video, as human or nonhuman and then passes that information to an operator who makes the decision to launch a strike. Does the AI that separates human from nonhuman targets “facilitate injury?” Or is the resulting injury from a drone strike caused by the operator pulling the trigger?

No matter the advancement of technology, at some point some human will influence that technology and what it does. The military spends millions of dollars and thousands of hours training people in things like Law of Armed Conflict, Rules of Engagement, Lawful Orders, and so on. That we may soon have to worry about weapons systems knowing the same is a brave new world indeed.

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Net Neutrality Passes Away (2015-2018)( 0 )

Net neutrality is officially repealed as of Monday, June 11. While the vote to repeal occurred back in December, the process required several further steps before officially being implemented on Monday.

CNN:

The controversial repeal of Obama-era net neutrality protections is officially set to take effect on Monday, despite ongoing efforts from members of Congress, state officials, tech companies and advocacy groups to save the rules.

The Republican-led Federal Communications Commission voted along party lines in December to repeal the rules, which were intended to prevent internet providers from blocking, speeding up, or slowing down access to specific online services.

The order required the approval of the Office of Management and Budget, which the FCC announced receiving last month. In a statement at the time, FCC chairman Ajit Pai framed the upcoming repeal as removing burdensome regulations.

“Now, on June 11, these unnecessary and harmful internet regulations will be repealed and the bipartisan, light-touch approach that served the online world well for nearly 20 years will be restored,” Pai said in a statement last month.

Supporters of net neutrality vow to fight on, such as Chad Marlow at ACLU:

On June 11, net neutrality protections will cease to exist. This means your internet service provider will be able to engage in content based discrimination. Internet content it likes — for political or financial reasons — will be delivered at top speeds, while content it disfavors will be slowed or even blocked.

But will that start happening on day one? Almost certainly not, because the big telecoms that fought so hard to kill net neutrality are smarter than that.

Internet service providers spent millions of dollars lobbying the Federal Communications Commission to end net neutrality, and they are certainly going to expect a healthy return on that investment. While the ISPs are clearly focused on increasing their profits, here the ISPs are likely to be patient. Their wisest course of action will be to eliminate net neutrality like a slow drip over time in the hope that consumers won’t notice and will stop caring.

While fans of repeal, such as Joe Kane at R Street, emphasize the past as prelude to the end of the regulations being hardly noticeable:

Title II rules only went into effect in 2015. If those rules were essential to the functioning of an open Internet, then it is hard to see how the online services we all use every day grew up and flourished without them.

The Internet became great without Title II rules, and we do not need 1934 telephone regulations to keep it that way. With the order that took effect today, you will still be able to use all your favorite web services. Meanwhile, the light-touch approach will foster new improvements to things like live-video streaming and online gaming, which could have been stifled by heavy-handed restrictions.

More from Ordinary Times on Net Neutrality:
The Messy Convergence of Sh**ty Customer Service and Net Neutrality By Tod Kelly
Net Neutrality, Libertarianism, and Free Information By Mark Thompson
How Neutral will Congress Make the Net?

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The Third Coming of Mitt Romney( 70 )

In a hotly contested election year, the most boring US Senate race might prove to have the most impact after the election. Barring something unheard of Mitt Romney is going to become the junior US Senator from Utah. But the former Massachusetts Governor and presidential candidate would not be your typical freshman senator.

NY Times:

While his wife looms largest in his life and decision-making, former aides and advisers say, Mr. Romney’s aspiration to live the lessons of George Romney cannot be overstated. When he debated Barack Obama in 2012, Mr. Romney scribbled a single word atop his notes to anchor himself: “Dad.”

“His dad’s legacy weighs into every decision he makes,” Josh Romney said.

After George Romney left office in Michigan, his son recalled in 2014, he grew “quite frustrated” at his diminished relevance, saying that Washington was “the fastest place to go from ‘who’s who’ to ‘who’s that’?”

Mr. Romney plans to avoid a similar coda. He has already spoken in private about serving two terms. He hopes to join the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, among other assignments. And he has told supporters he wants to become a leading voice on fiscal discipline and immigration policy — about which he has said he is “more of a hawk” than the president.

“He’s hesitant to even bring up his name,” Josh Romney said. “He doesn’t want it to be about Donald Trump.”

Nor do the voters, in a state Mr. Trump lost decisively in the 2016 Republican caucus, seem especially inclined to make Mr. Romney talk about him. At the festival, Mr. Romney fell into conversation with firefighters, a sheriff, a former volunteer on his presidential race. “Wish I’d have won,” Mr. Romney told the man. “I apologize.”

And that name Romney is hesitate to speak, President Donald J. Trump, was very much on his mind two years ago in his well publicized speech during the 2016 campaign:

AP:

He once called Donald Trump “a con man,” but Mitt Romney is now predicting that Trump will “easily” win his party’s presidential nomination in 2020 and “solidly” win a second term. The president, in turn, called Romney “a straight shooter.”

Romney, the GOP’s failed 2012 presidential nominee from Massachusetts, now a Republican Senate candidate in Utah, made the prediction Thursday as he welcomed dozens of high-profile business and political leaders to a mountainside retreat in Utah. As he has every year since 2012, Romney played host to an invitation-only summit focused on the future of American leadership at home and abroad.

The future, he predicted, would feature Trump as America’s leader at least for another six years.

“I think that not just because of the strong economy and the fact that people are going to see increasingly rising wages,” Romney said, “but I think it’s also true because I think our Democrat friends are likely to nominate someone who is really out of the mainstream of American thought and will make it easier for a president who’s presiding over a growing economy.”

Asked about Romney’s comments as he left the White House on Friday, Trump said he appreciated his formal rival’s assessment.
“Mitt’s a straight shooter — whether people love him or don’t love him,” Trump said.

The remarks from Romney marked a sharp reversal, in tone if not substance, from his original characterization of Trump. Romney briefly served as the face of the so-called “Never Trump” movement before the 2016 election. He delivered a scathing speech in Utah before the 2016 election, calling Trump “a con man” and “a fake.”

Yet Romney’s criticism has softened since then. And now, in the midst of a Republican Senate primary campaign, the former Massachusetts governor appears to be embracing Trump and his leadership role in the modern-day Republican Party.

Which version of Mitt will be serving in the US Senate remains to be seen. But unless something unforeseen happens, we will find out come January.

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One Second Is Worth A Thousand Words( 17 )

This is, quite obviously, going to be a picture for the history books.

One Second Is Worth A Thousand Words

As Matthew Stinson and Matt Dawson point out, though, it’s a picture from a narrative. It could well have been this picture:

One Second Is Worth A Thousand Words

Both Trump and anti-Trump have latched on to the first picture as one that supports their narrative. There are even some “Trump and Abe versus the world!” takes on the pro-Trump side, and the sense that Trump being obstinant while dreaded globalist foreign leaders are upset fits a picture that many like.

What I find interesting, and I need to remember, how much story can be told by the selection of one photograph instead of another. Stinson, a photographer, explains further in his Twitter thread.

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Are Individualist Societies More Cohesive?( 4 )

The argument is that individualist societies require more in the way of social capital, and therefore more cooperation than collectivist ones:

Many social scientists have predicted that one inevitable consequence of modernization is the unlimited growth of individualism, which poses serious threats to the organic unity of society. Others have argued that autonomy and independence are necessary conditions for the development of interpersonal cooperation and social solidarity. We reanalyzed available data on the relationship between individualism-collectivism and social capital within one country (the United States) and across 42 countries. In America, the states with a high level of social capital (higher degree of civic engagement in political activity, where people spend more time with their friends and believe that most people can be trusted) were found to be more individualistic. A correspondingly strong association between individualism and social capital was observed in the comparison of different countries. These results support Durkheim’s view that when individuals become more autonomous and seemingly liberated from social bonds, they actually become even more dependent on society

You can read the PDF here.

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Sleeping With The Source( 7 )

It’s not just for House of Cards:

Questions remain over whether BuzzFeed News acted ethically with a former employee, Ali Watkins, who had a romantic relationship with an indicted former security director for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Watkins told her BuzzFeed editors about her relationship with the individual, James Wolfe, who the Department of Justice has charged with lying to investigators during a leak probe, according to The New York Times, where Watkins now works as a national security reporter.

BuzzFeed Editor-In-Chief Ben Smith said he would “not comment at all on a reporter’s sources in the middle of an unjustifiable leak hunt” when The Daily Caller News Foundation asked about the extent the organization knew about Watkins’ behavior to corroborate The Times’ reporting. {…}

Later, a BuzzFeed spokesman told TheDCNF that the company does not dispute The Times’ reporting on Wolfe’s indictment, meaning that at last some BuzzFeed editors were aware of Watkins’ relationship with the Senate Intelligence aide.

It was never disclosed in any of the pieces Watkins wrote for BuzzFeed that she had a conflict of interest with an individual that provided her with information. If her editors knew about this relationship, it remains unclear why did they not make this clear to readers or prohibit her from covering the Senate Intelligence committee.

This… definitely seems like a journalistic breach.

To what degree this was all worthy of FBI attention, but that aspect of this story is not without precedent.

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Anthony Bourdain Dead at 61( 14 )

Chef and television food host Anthony Bourdain has died at age 61 in what is being reported as a suicide. The host of CNN’s “Parts Unknown” was found in his hotel room in France, where he was working on a forthcoming episode.

NY Times:

The travel host Anthony Bourdain, whose memoir “Kitchen Confidential” about the dark corners of New York’s restaurants started a career in television, died on Friday at 61.

For the past several years, Mr. Bourdain hosted the show “Parts Unknown” on CNN and was working on an episode in Strasbourg, France, when he died, the network said Friday morning. He killed himself in a hotel room, the network said.

“It is with extraordinary sadness we can confirm the death of our friend and colleague,” CNN said in a statement.

Bourdain had a long career in food, but rose to prominence with the publishing of his book “Kitchen Confidential” that lead to a career in televisoon:

Biography.com:

Born on June 25, 1956, in New York City, Anthony Bourdain was raised in suburban New Jersey, developing a devotion to literature and rock music. (His mother was a copy editor and his dad, a music executive.) Bourdain eventually attended Vassar College for two years and then graduated from the world-renowned Culinary Institute of America in 1978.

Later acknowledging self-destructive drug use during his youth, Bourdain soon began running the kitchens of New York restaurants such as the Supper Club, One Fifth Avenue and Sullivan’s. He became executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles in 1998.

In 1997, The New Yorker published Bourdain’s now famous article “Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” a scathingly honest look at the inner workings of restaurants, specifically their kitchens. With his credibility as a renowned chef, the article carried much weight and led to other writing projects. In 2000, his bestselling book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, a vast expansion of the New Yorker article that highlighted Bourdain’s sometimes rough disposition, came out to great popularity.

Bourdain’s was the second high profile suicide this week, following the news of fashion icon Kate Spade’s death earlier in the week.

Reuters:

Bourdain hanged himself, the network said in a statement. He was found dead in a hotel room in Strasbourg, France, where he had been working on an upcoming episode of his program, CNN said.

Bourdain’s death was the second suicide this week of a high-profile American figure. Designer Kate Spade, who built a fashion empire on her signature handbags, was found dead in her New York apartment of suicide on Tuesday.

Suicide rates rose in nearly every U.S. state from 1999 to 2016, according to figures released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday.

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Ontario To Be Made Great Again( 8 )

Populism invades Canada as Doug Ford – brother of the flambouyant former mayor of Toronto – is elected Prime Minister and his Progressive Conservative Party wins a majority.

After 15 years in the political wilderness, Ford led his Progressive Conservatives to victory in Ontario’s provincial election Thursday. Less than half an hour after polls closed the victory was called for Ford.

A higher than predicted popular vote and new electronic vote counters — a first for Elections Ontario — made for a very quick result after voting ended at 9 p.m. The victory was declared in record time, less than 30 minutes after polls closed.

“A new day has dawned in Ontario: a day of opportunity, a day of prosperity and a day of growth,” Ford said after taking the stage at his party’s headquarters.

The premier-elect threw tradition out the window on election night and was the first leader to make an election night speech. His decision to go first meant that Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne’s concession speech wasn’t aired on most television networks.

“We’re going to turn this province around,” Ford told the crowd of party faithful. “We will make sure Ontario is the greatest place on earth to live, to do business and to raise a family. And we will make Ontario once again the engine of Canada.”

The Liberals had been in power for quite a while, so a changing of the guard was due. Even so, now Alberta has an NDP government and Ontario a Progressive Conservative one. In both cases, though, the majority political orientation was split. In Alberta, the PCs and rightwing Wildrose Party combined for over 50% of the vote, whereas here the Liberals and NDP combined for over 50%. Election systems matter.

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Down With the Nutrition Pyramid?( 7 )

So to be honest, the last time I thought about the USDA’s dietary and nutritional guidance was thinking of the food pyramid from school. Which is to say that I have given them little to no thought sense. Apparently I am not alone.

Time to Get Rid of the Government’s Dietary Guidelines? By Ross Pomeroy

Indeed, better-controlled research free from biased sources of funding are now telling us that humans can thrive on a variety of balanced diets, from low-carb, to low-fat, and a whole lot in between. Fascinating basic research has also informed us that bodies can react very differently to identical diets. There is no single best diet for everyone.

“The same general recommendations are not always helping people, and my biggest hope is that we can move this boat and steer it in a different direction,” said Eran Segal, a researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, in response to his study showing that subjects’ blood sugar responses vary wildly to the same foods.

Segal may suggest “steering” the boat, but another possible option is just sinking it altogether. Perhaps it’s time to significantly trim dietary guidelines, or even do away with them altogether?

But how will people know what to eat, you might ask? The simple fact is that most people know they should eat more vegetables and less ultra-processed, highly palatable food, they simply choose not to. Moreover, there is no shortage of respectable organizations to give diet advice.

Axing the guidelines might also minimize some lobbying. The millions spent by the dairy industry no doubt factored in to milk and cheese’s prominent and prolific position in the guidelines. After all, why recommend milk when one-quarter of Americans cannot properly digest it? Its advertised health benefits aren’t anything special. And considering that Americans consume far too many calories – we rank second in the world for calories consumed – why not recommend drinking water instead?

Lobbying also prevents good advice from getting into the guidelines. The advisory committee behind the most recent guidelines recommended including the simple suggestion that “intake of sugar-sweetened beverages should be reduced.” Any legitimate dietician, doctor, or nutrition researcher would echo that recommendation, but Congress axed it from the guidelines.

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Is The Higher Ed Bubble Deflating?( 13 )

The beginning of the fall?

Bryan Alexander started grappling with the idea of “peak higher education” in 2013—inspired by the notion of “peak car,” “peak oil,” and other so-called “peaks.” At the time, there were signs that the industry was already struggling. The number of students enrolled in higher education had dropped by a little over 450,000 after years of booming growth, the proportion of part-time faculty—more commonly referred to as adjuncts—had steadily become a more significant part of the professorship, and there was a general skepticism about the skyrocketing costs of college and concerns over whether a degree was worth it. Taken individually, he said, each sign was troubling enough. But when looked at together, they represented the outlines of a bleak future for higher education. Alexander, a self-described higher-education futurist and a former English professor, came to the conclusion that after nearly a half century of growth, higher education might be as big as it could get. It would, he reasoned, only get smaller from there.

Now, five years on, he says the “depressing” hypothesis is playing out. In the spring of 2013, there were 19,105,651 students enrolled in higher ed; this spring, there were 17,839,330, according to recently released data from the National Center for Education Statistics. That represents a roughly 7-percent decrease—and is driven largely by declining enrollments in the for-profit and community-college sectors, as well as stagnant enrollments among four-year non-profit public and private institutions. And the trend of declining enrollment in higher education is likely to continue, he argues, for a couple of reasons, but most notably, a declining birth rate means that there will be fewer 18-year-olds entering academe, and there are fewer international and immigrant students to fill those seats.

A lot of universities have bet a lot of money on ever-increasing enrollment. I don’t know what happens if things really do go in this direction. Non-elite private schools would be the hardest hit, I would imagine and it’s not out of the question to see a lot of them collapse. I’m not sure about state universities.

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IHOb? AYFKM?( 15 )

Are you fishing kidding me? What fresh rottenness is this?

IHOP is hinting that a big change is coming — with just the small flip of a letter.

The pancake chain, in a tweet Monday morning, suggested that it would change its name from “IHOP” to “IHOb” starting June 11.

That’s right. It’s not a typo, although the company has not disclosed the meaning of the new acronym.

“We’re serious about the quality of food and our menu, and this name change really reflects that,” says Stephanie Peterson, IHOP’s executive director of communications.

Founded in suburban Los Angeles by Al and Jerry Lapin in 1958, the International House of Pancakes shortened its name to IHOP in 1973, according to the company’s website. Now, 45 years later, IHOP appears to be heading for another tweak.

This kind of bums me out. I have a lot of very fond memories of IHOP. Being the place that was always open made it really convenient. Now… well it’s still there I guess. It just has a dumb name.

Oh, well, at least it’s not Denny’s.

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Alice Marie Johnson’s Sentence Commuted By President Trump( 51 )

Alice Marie Johnson has had her life sentence commuted by President Trump. Johnson’s reprieve comes after she has served 21 years of a life sentence, and is due in no small part to many advocates taking up her cause. Most recently Kim Kardashian West made news by appealing directly to President Trump on the matter, apparently successfully.

CNN:

President Donald Trump has commuted the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a first-time non-violent drug offender, two White House officials told CNN, a week after Kim Kardashian West pleaded her case during an Oval Office meeting with Trump.

Johnson has already served 21 years of a life sentence after she was convicted on charges of conspiracy to possess cocaine and attempted possession of cocaine, according to the nonprofit Can-Do, which advocates for clemency for non-violent drug offenders.

She is expected to be released from prison soon.

The issue has been championed by many justice reform activists, and recently became very high profile when Kim Kardashian West appealed on Johnson’s behalf to President Trump:

WCPO:

Trump and Kardashian West met with Trump in the Oval Office last Wednesday after she first reached out to Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump to help set up the meeting. Jared Kushner has been leading a push on prison reform as part of his portfolio as a senior adviser to the President.

“I would like to thank President Trump for his time this afternoon. It is our hope that the President will grant clemency to Ms. Alice Marie Johnson who is serving a life sentence for a first-time, non-violent drug offense,” Kardashian West said in a statement after meeting with Trump. “We are optimistic about Ms. Johnson’s future and hopeful that she — and so many like her — will get a second chance at life.”

So who exactly is Alice Marie Johnson and what were her crimes? Bustle summarizes:

“Before my incarceration, I had a full life,” Johnson wrote in an op-ed at CNN Thursday. “I married my childhood sweetheart and became the mother to five beautiful children. As the years went on I became a facilitator training people on how to be managers. I was a manager at FedEx for seven years. Life for a time was good.”

However, a series of hardships soon threw Johnson’s life into disarray. In 1989, she and her husband divorced. A year later, she says lost her job at FedEx, ultimately filing for bankruptcy and losing her house in the process. Then, in 1992, her youngest son was killed in a scooter accident.

At that point, Johnson gradually became involved in a drug trafficking operation in Memphis, Tennessee. She says that she never brokered any deals or handled drugs, but was responsible for relaying coded messages over the phone.

“I acknowledge that I have done wrong,” Johnson wrote in her op-ed. “I made the biggest mistake of my life to make ends meet and got involved with people selling drugs.”

In 1993, Johnson and 15 others were arrested on various drug charges. During the trial, 10 of Johnson’s co-defendants testified against her, and received sentences ranging from no jail time to 10 years in prison in exchange, according to Mic. Johnson, however, was granted no such leniency, and despite having no previous drug charges, was sentenced to life in prison in 1997.
Johnson appealed to President Barack Obama for clemency three times, according to Business Insider. But although Obama did grant clemency to many nonviolent drug offenders during his presidency, his administration rejected Johnson’s case all three times.

The case brings up long running issues of both drug sentencing, and the lack of parole at the federal level.
The Atlantic:

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia isn’t a supporter of legalizing drugs. But he does believe that passing federal laws against them has done harm to the U.S. government. “It was a great mistake to put routine drug offenses into the federal courts,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday. The Wall Street Journal went on to report Scalia’s belief that the laws forced Congress to enlarge the federal court system, and diminished “the elite quality of the federal judiciary.”

This isn’t a new problem. Chief Justice William Rehnquist complained as far back as 1989 that the war on drugs was overwhelming the federal judiciary. In 1995, Kathleen F. Brickley, an academic, found that “the Federal system is strained to capacity due, in large part, to the government’s war on drugs.”

Joel Cohen in The Hill:

But there used to be an escape hatch. Before the Sentencing Reform Act, effective late 1987, required virtually mandatory sentences (which, in 2005, became more malleable “guidelines”), a judge had the unbridled power to reduce a sentence – for any reason, or no reason at all– as long as the defendant filed for the reduction within 120 days from when he was sentenced or when his appeals ran out, whichever was later.

There were, at the time, no sentencing guidelines that would have informed a judge’s sentencing leniency and the judge was permitted to take a “second look” under “Rule 35” (of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure), a then reflexively-used weapon in the defense lawyer’s arsenal.

So, once the judge’s ardor had cooled; or the judge simply had a second thought; or the defendant had gotten what the judge perceived as a needed “taste” of prison; or the victim was more forgiving given the passage of time; or even the judge’s baby granddaughter simply had a pretty smile on her face when the judge left for court that day; the judge could simply lower the sentence – literally to any period of time that the judge chose, even immediate probation.
And the sentencing judge could choose boldly and wildly; indeed, some judges (it is said) actually factored into the initially harsh sentence their intention to reduce it later.

Added to this mix is that judges are flatly unable – other than by making recommendations to the Bureau of Prisons, a bureaucracy that, under case law, is completely free to ignore them – to decide what prison a defendant should be placed in and whether it is near or far from family who, the judge believes, would visit if they could?
Meaning, a judge cannot tell the Bureau how to treat its prisoner – formerly the judge’s defendant – when he has been a model prisoner or is gravely or even terminally ill. No, when a defendant is sentenced, the judge has virtually no ability whatsoever to follow up or add to the discussion of that defendant’s future even in compassionate release scenarios.

So, when the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 determined that the Sentencing Reform Act’s mandatory sentences could be no more than “guidelines,” why didn’t Congress reinstate the Rule 35 escape hatch, if you will; a procedural device that empowered judges to rethink the sentence which may have been too harsh when executed – the harshness perhaps motivated, in part, by the public fury over the case at the time (even though appointed-for- life federal judges will state, likely truthfully, that the public’s views do not factor into their decision-making).

Perhaps it is simply that a previously arrogant defendant, having spent a mere 120 days in jail, has finally come to grips with the gravity of what he did, and can better articulate his remorse. Sentencing is not only about punishment and deterrence. It is also about mercy and hope.

Why should Congress want to deprive defendants – and, for that matter, our judges – of that “mercy” function? Shouldn’t the Legislature reinstate that second bite of the apple when cooperation is not implicated so that, at least to some extent, a judge can revisit his now non-mandatory sentence?

Unquestionably many, many individuals sitting in prison deserve to be there for long periods of time. But there are also many, many that don’t deserve to be there as long as originally imposed by the sentencing judge.

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Judge Who Sentenced Brock Turner Recalled by Voters( 35 )

Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky became the first California judge recalled by voters in 86 years Tuesday. Persky, who drew controversy over his handling of the Brock Turner Rape case, had been on the bench since appointment in 2003 by then-Gov. Gray Davis.

For those that don’t recall, SF Chronicle summarize the original Brock Turner Rape Case.

Persky, 56, was a deputy district attorney who prosecuted sex crimes before Gov. Gray Davis appointed him to the bench in 2003. He won two new six-year terms without opposition and drew little public attention or criticism until 2016, when he presided over the sexual assault trial of Stanford student Brock Turner.

Turner, 19 at the time, was arrested after two graduate students on bicycles discovered him late one night in January 2015 lying on top of an unconscious woman and caught him when he tried to run away. Turner denied assaulting the 22-year-old woman, maintaining they had acted consensually after meeting at a fraternity party where both had been drinking heavily, but a jury convicted him of three felonies.

The crimes were punishable by up to 14 years in prison, and prosecutors sought a six-year sentence. But Persky noted that the court’s probation officer had recommended a jail sentence of a year or less after speaking with the victim. The judge also cited Turner’s youth and lack of a criminal record, the “severe impact” a prison term would have on him, and his obligation to register annually with police as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

The victim, identified only as Emily Doe, spoke at the sentencing hearing, telling Turner he had taken away “my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence.” She said she considered the proposed jail sentence “an insult to me and all women.”

The statement went viral, galvanized women’s rights advocates, and touched off a campaign that generated nearly 100,000 signatures on recall petitions. It was also instrumental in the rapid enactment of a new state law requiring at least three years in prison for sexual penetration of an unconscious victim.

Almost immediately after the sentencing, efforts to recall Persky began, as reported by NPR:

With 43 percent of county precincts reporting, 59 percent of voters favored the recall of Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, 41 percent opposed the recall, according to The Associated Press, who called the vote early Wednesday.
Persky becomes the first California judge in 86 years to be recalled.

Women outraged by Turner’s lenient sentence led the charge to recall Persky from his post, saying he is unfit to serve out the remaining four years of his term. Persky’s defenders argued that a recall would undermine judicial independence and might unintentionally lead to longer sentences for far less privileged felons.

Turner was convicted in 2016 of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster at a fraternity party when he was a student at Stanford University.

The crime could have been punished by up to 14 years in prison, as NPR’s Tovia Smith has reported, but Persky, following the county probation department’s recommendation, sentenced Turner to six months in county jail. He only served three months because of good behavior.

At the sentencing, Turner’s victim read a statement about how the assault — and Turner’s refusal to apologize for it — hurt her irreversibly.

Meanwhile, Persky said at the sentencing that “a prison sentence would have a severe impact on [Turner].”

Almost immediately, public support for a recall began to surge. Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, a family friend of Turner’s victim, led a campaign that ultimately got the recall on the county ballot for Tuesday’s vote.

Persky has found some defenders, not so much for the sentencing decision, but out of concerns that recalling judges could affect sentencing going forward:

CNN

Perksy, however, has found an unlikely ally in Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen whose prosecutors pushed for a stronger sentence. Rosen could have stayed on the sidelines; instead he is actively speaking out, appearing at a news conference on Wednesday with Perksy.

“To recall a judge for one bad decision is something that would have dramatically negative effects throughout our criminal justice system, ” he said.

Persky also got a green light from the Commission on Judicial Performance, an independent state agency, which found no evidence of bias or misconduct with his rulings. Dauber dismissed the report as “a one-sided, closed-door proceeding.”

At least one friend of the judge is hesitant about placing a sign in his yard. The feelings on both sides of the recall are so strong that some are worried about the fallout of endorsing a particular side. Persky tells a story about how he asked one of his longtime friends to put up a yard sign to show support. When the man hedged, Persky said he realized how divisive the issue had become.

“He didn’t want to wonder, ‘What will my neighbors think? What will people think about me? What conclusions will they draw about my character if I put this lawn sign on my lawn? Will they still like me?'” Persky said.

NPR:

The Recall Aaron Persky campaign responded to concerns over judicial independence in a statement that read, in part, “California judges are accountable to voters, and that means considering judges’ previous decisions. … It is up to the voters to determine whether or not Judge Persky continues in office, and the voters may consider his history on the bench including his decisions in making their determination.”

In a statement released last week, the president of the Santa Clara County Bar Association, Kevin Hammon, focuses on the possible consequences for other, less privileged criminals.

Hammon said there is a “special danger” in punishing a judge for being lenient because it sends a message to other judges, exacerbating over-incarceration and precluding “a thoughtful consideration of individualized circumstances.”
He raised the example of abusive or neglectful parents who have experienced traumas or are struggling with addiction. People who have “done terrible things” can meaningfully change their lives, he writes. But a judge would have to give them that chance — and from the outside, that might look like “leniency.” The recall effort might suggest to judges that such decisions would put their jobs in jeopardy, Hammon said.

“I will vote against the recall because I value rehabilitation,” Hammon wrote.

The recall campaign responded to such arguments by saying it’s possible to recall Persky, in order to support women who are victims of sexual violence, while also advocating for criminal justice reform, including reducing mass incarceration.

“Both are important and justice is not zero sum,” the campaign wrote.

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There She Is, Miss America 2.0( 11 )

“It is NOT a beauty pageant! It is a scholarship program!” is the famous line about a fictional competition in the movie Miss Congeniality. But major changes announced to the annual crowning of Miss America are real, right down to not calling it a pageant, with the aim being more competition and less beauty emphasis.

NY Times:

For nearly a century, Miss America contestants have strutted onstage and struck poses in increasingly skimpy swimsuits, in a controversial pageant tradition that organizers long defended as a gauge of the women’s physical fitness.

But the bikini has been banished. The Miss America Organization, confronting a harassment scandal and trying to find its place in the #MeToo era, announced on Tuesday that it would scrap the swimsuit portion, starting with its next pageant in September.

“We are not going to judge you on your outward appearance,” Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News anchor who is now the organization’s chairwoman, said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “We want more women to know that they are welcome in this organization.”

That major change in the organization now headed by Gretchen Carlson comes after her own very public struggle with sexual harassment, and the Miss America organizations own scandals:

ABC News:

In addition to being crowned Miss America in 1989, Carlson has more recently been an outspoken advocate for victims of sexual harassment and a champion of the #MeToo movement. In 2016, she settled a lawsuit against former Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, who stepped down from his role after mounting pressure from additional employees with similar accusations.

“I could have never expected what would happen when I sued my former employer at Fox News for sexual harassment 22 months ago, but look what has happened,” she said. “Thousands of women have been inspired to know that they can stand up and speak up and their voices will be heard.”

Carlson added, “If I’ve been a beacon of hope to any woman in that process, it has been worth it.”

The sweeping changes to Miss America aim to help the organization be more inclusive and empowering for all women. Carlson also said that she hopes the revamped competition will resonate more with young people.

“We are now open, inclusive and transparent and I want to inspire thousands of young people across this country to come and be a part of our program,” she said. “We want you and we want to celebrate your accomplishments and your talents and then we want to hand you scholarships.”

The Miss America organization courted controversy earlier this year when internal emails were released from the group’s former CEO Sam Haskell. In the leaked emails, Haskell, who later resigned, and others were insulting the appearance, intellect and personal lives of former pageant winners, including Carlson.

Carlson is now part of an all-female leadership team at Miss America.

“This is a new beginning and change can sometimes be difficult but I know a lot about change,” she said. “My life has worked in mysterious ways. I never thought I’d be the chairwoman of the Miss America Organization, but here I am and we’re moving it forward and we’re evolving in this cultural revolution.”

As for the decision to scrap the swimsuit competition, Carlson was more blunt:

“We are no longer a pageant; we are a competition. We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance,” Carlson told GMA’s Amy Robach. “That means we will no longer have a swimsuit competition.”

Carlson said the evening-gown portion of the program will also be revamped. “We’re no longer judging women when they come out in their chosen attire — their evening wear, whatever they choose to do. It’s gonna be what comes out of their mouth that we’re interested in, when they talk about their social impact initiatives.”

Carlson, who was awarded the Miss America crown in 1989, said this was a board decision. She acknowledged “change can sometimes be difficult,” but was excited for the competition to be “evolving in this cultural revolution.”

The balancing act of empowering women while also showcasing them to a mass audience live on TV is not a new conundrum:

Over the decades, the Miss America Organization struggled to reconcile its stated mission — empowering women and handing out millions of dollars in scholarships — while requiring contestants to wear revealing attire and high heels for a leering television audience. In the early 1990s, the organization acknowledged the controversy over the swimsuit portion and asked viewers to vote on whether to keep it.

“We are not stupid,” Leonard Horn, the organization’s chief executive, said in 1993. “We are very sensitive to the fact that the swimsuit competition has always been our Achilles’ heel. The swimsuit competition has been controversial since the early 1920s, but it’s been retained because the majority of the people like it.”

The Miss America winner in 1993, Leanza Cornett, said at the time that the swimsuits should be scrapped. But another unscientific poll by the organization in 1995 found that two-thirds of respondents wanted it to stay.

Last year, 5.6 million viewers watched “The Miss America Competition” on ABC, down 10 percent from 6.2 million in 2016 and seven million in 2015. But many live shows have experienced similar ratings declines, including “Sunday Night Football,” the Olympics, the Oscars and the Grammys.

Ms. Carlson said on Tuesday that viewers’ opinions had changed. The swimsuit portion of the competition was “not a highly rated part,” she said. “People actually like the talent part of the competition,” she said.

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WSJ: The Hostile Occupation of Carlos Lopez’s House( 77 )

It seems like this sort of thing might be playing more of a role in rental unavailability than AirBnB.

If Carlos Lopez lived anywhere but California, he could have forced the suqatter out of his modest rental house months ago. But here any conviction defendant, even one who has admittedly refused to pay the rent, can get a free attorney and demand a jury trial as leverage. That’s what the woman occupying Mr. Lopez’s house in northern Los Angeles County did. Only ethics or ignorance prevents every evictee from doing the same.

As Mr Lopez’s lawyer, I was skeptical when he told me someone was living in his house without payment or permission – until I discovered that my firm had helped evict the same woman from three other area houses. The difference this time was that the squatter had an attorney, provided by a state-funded nonprofit whose mission is to reduce evictions. As a result, she could practically decide for herself when to leave and how she would leave.

Like many small-time landlords, Mr. Lopez, a landscaper, couldn’t afford a lawsuit costing anywhere from $8,000 to $20,000. He was dealing from a nearly powerless position with someone to whom, he says, he never agreed to rent and who never paid him a cent. He says she showed up after his former tenant went to jail.

“This is not worth it,” Mr. Lopez said of being a landlord. He hopes to sell the house, which he inherited, once it’s vacant.

Of course, the two may amplify one another: It’s a lot easier to get rid of an AirBnB tenant than most other things.Photo by Mark Turnauckas WSJ: The Hostile Occupation of Carlos Lopez’s House

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Teenagers to Facebook: We Just Aren’t That Into You( 11 )

The governments of the world, privacy issues, and debates about information monopolies might turn out as the least of Facebook’s problem. If the new Pew data is to be believed, Facebook is not only under fire, but teens just aren’t that into it anymore.

Bloomberg:

Now only 51 percent of kids ages 13-17 use Facebook, according to Pew Research Center. The world’s largest social network is eclipsed in popularity by YouTube, Snapchat and Facebook Inc.-owned Instagram.

“The social media environment today revolves less around a single platform than it did three years ago,” the researchers wrote in a survey published on Thursday. Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube is the most popular, used by 85 percent of teens, according to Pew.

The U.S. is by far Facebook’s most lucrative advertising market, where it makes a staggering $23.59 in quarterly revenue per user. But that doesn’t mean growth can continue forever. The company said in its most recent earnings call that it’s effectively saturated the market in the U.S. and Canada, counting 185 million users in those two countries combined.

The study demonstrates how difficult it may be to keep up that level of dominance, and how important the 2012 Instagram acquisition has been for Facebook’s future. Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Instagram is slightly more popular than Snapchat overall, Pew said, with 72 percent of respondents saying they use the photo-sharing app, compared with Snapchat’s 69 percent. But Snap Inc. is holding its own, despite Instagram’s frequent parroting of its features. About one-third of the survey’s respondents said they visit Snapchat and YouTube most often, while 15 percent said Instagram is their most frequent destination.

Meanwhile, only 10 percent of teens said Facebook is their most-used online platform. The Pew analysis was based on a survey of 1,058 parents who have a teenager from 13 to 17, as well as interviews with 743 teens themselves. Interviews were conducted online and by telephone from March 7 to April 10.

The underlying Pew article, also notes that smartphones are nearly universal among American teens, and that demographic has a varied view of the effect of social media has on them.

This shift in teens’ social media use is just one example of how the technology landscape for young people has evolved since the Center’s last survey of teens and technology use in 2014-2015. Most notably, smartphone ownership has become a nearly ubiquitous element of teen life: 95% of teens now report they have a smartphone or access to one. These mobile connections are in turn fueling more-persistent online activities: 45% of teens now say they are online on a near-constant basis.

The survey also finds there is no clear consensus among teens about the effect that social media has on the lives of young people today. Minorities of teens describe that effect as mostly positive (31%) or mostly negative (24%), but the largest share (45%) says that effect has been neither positive nor negative.

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Jeffersonians vs Hamilitonians Regarding Facebook and Google( 1 )

A very old argument comes to a contemporary debate. In a fascinating article @Frankpasquale starts at Hayek and runs a thread through Jefferson and Hamilton to the current debate about what, if anything, should be done about the might of Google, Facebook, and other big tech.

Tech Platforms and the Knowledge Problem By Frank Pasquale in American Affairs

Clashes among centralizers and decentralists can be particularly illuminating.

The Jeffersonian school has coalesced around the problem of lax antitrust enforcement in the United States, and competition promotion more generally. The Open Markets Institute (OMI), kicked out of the New America foundation for being too hostile to Google, has led the charge. Leaders at OMI, like Matt Stoller and Barry Lynn, argue that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should break up Facebook and establish Instagram and WhatsApp as competing social networks. Lina Khan, also at OMI, has written an exhaustive critique of Amazon’s gigantism that is already one of the Yale Law Journal’s most downloaded articles. The emphasis on subsidiarity in Catholic Social Thought is also a font of decentralist theory, often invoked by conservatives to protect the autonomy of local authorities and civil society institutions.

The Hamiltonians include traditional centrists (like Rob Atkinson, who recently coauthored Big Is Beautiful with Michael Lind), as well as voices on both ends of the political spectrum. Recapitulating Schumpeter’s praise of monopoly as a spur to growth, Peter Thiel’s Zero to One is a paean to monopoly power, justifying its perquisites as the just and necessary reward for dramatic innovation. On the left, Evgeny Morozov does not want to see the data stores of the likes of Google and Facebook scattered to a dozen different versions of these services. Rather, he argues, they are natural monopolies: they get better and better at each task they take on when they have access to more and more pooled data from all the tasks they perform. The ultimate Left logic here is toward fully automated luxury communism, in which massive firms use machine learning and 3-d printing to solve hunger, save the environment, and end the problem of scarcity. Left centralizers also argue that problems as massive as climate change can only be solved by a Hamiltonian approach.

The Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian visions lead to very different policy recommendations in the tech space. Jeffersonians want to end Google’s acquisition spree, full stop. They believe the firm has simply gotten too powerful. But even some progressive regulators might wave through Google’s purchase of Waze (the traffic monitoring app), however much it strengthens Google’s power over the mapping space, in hopes that the driving data may accelerate its development of self-driving cars. The price of faster progress may be the further concentration of power in Silicon Valley. To Jeffersonians, though, it is that very concentration (of power, patents, and profits) in megafirms that deters small businesses from taking risks to develop breakthrough technologies.
Facebook’s dominance in social networking raises similar concerns. Privacy regulators in the United States and Europe are investigating whether Facebook did enough to protect user data from third-party apps, like the ones that Cambridge Analytica and its allies used to harvest data on tens of millions of unsuspecting Facebook users. Note that Facebook itself clamped down on third-party access to data it gathered in 2013, in part thanks to its worries that other firms were able to construct lesser, but still powerful, versions of its famous “social graph”—the database of intentions and connections that makes the social network so valuable to advertisers.

For Jeffersonians, the Facebook crackdown on data flows to outside developers is suspicious. It looks like the social network is trying to monopolize a data hoard that could provide essential raw materials for future start-ups. From a Hamiltonian perspective, however, securing the data trove in one massive firm looks like the responsible thing to do (as long as the firm is well regulated). Once the data is permanently transferred from Facebook to other companies, it may be very hard to ensure that it is not misused. Competitors (or “frenemies,” in Ariel Ezrachi and Maurice Stucke’s terms) cannot access data that is secure in Facebook’s servers—but neither can hackers, blackmailers, or shadowy data brokers who are specialists in military-grade psyops. To stop “runaway data” from creating a full-disclosure dystopia for all of us, “security feudalism” seems necessary.

Policy conflict between Jeffersonians and Hamiltonians, “small-is-beautiful” democratizers and centralist bureaucratizers, will heat up in coming years.

Do read the whole thing, plenty to think about and discuss.
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The Epilogue of “The Americans”( 3 )

Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers…

What happens to Philip and Elizabeth after the curtains fall on The Americans:

The first quasi-private businesses are about to open in Russia. In two years, the Eastern Bloc will disintegrate in a quick succession of velvet and not-so-velvet revolutions. In another two years, the Soviet Union itself will collapse following a failed and fumbling hard-line coup. In the year in between the collapses, thousands of people will line up to eat at the first McDonald’s in Moscow.

Philip and Elizabeth will be in demand. As K.G.B. agents with excellent knowledge of English, they can get jobs at any number of new companies that are trying both to do business with foreigners and to stay out of the way of the secret police. They might become heads of security for one of the companies that will grow very large in the coming years; their experience in assassinations may also come in handy. They could also become biznesmeny and launch an enterprise of their own—their connections and their English will be a great asset. Hell, they could build a travel empire. (Back in Washington, they ran a small travel agency.)

This all sounds about right.

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Study: The Refugee of My Enemy Is My Friend( 1 )

Why do states accept refugees? While there are a number of factors that influence a state’s decision to accept refugees, interstate relations play an important yet understudied role in refugee flows. In this paper, we build on previous work that has suggested that states with an adversarial relationship will be more likely to accept refugees. We incorporate existing conceptualization and theory from the rivalry literature and extend this logic to state strategy of refugee acceptance to provide one of the first empirical evaluations of refugee acceptance by states. Specifically, we argue that the issues rivals are contending over will change the incentives and disincentives for admitting a rival’s refugees. We anticipate that rivals disputing over ideology will be more likely to accept their rival’s refugees than rivals contending over other rivalry types. We test and find evidence for our arguments using a data set of all directed dyads from 1960 to 2006.

Source: The Refugee of My Enemy Is My Friend: Rivalry Type and Refugee Admission – Joshua L. Jackson, Douglas B. Atkinson, 2018

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Corrupt Leader Removed from Power…In Spain( 0 )

Mariano Rajoy has been removed as Prime Minister of Spain on a no confidence vote by that country’s parliament. The vote means the Socialists, the main opposition party, will now take power behind Pedro Sanchez from Mr. Rajoy’s Popular Party.

NYTimes:

In 2009, a judge started an investigation into possible kickbacks received by conservative politicians in return for public contracts. Francisco Correa, a businessman with close ties to the Popular Party, was identified as the ringleader of the scheme, so the inquiry was code-named Gürtel, the German translation of Correa (which means belt in English).

The investigation turned into several separate court cases, involving fraudulent contracts and more than $170 million of public funds misspent by politicians in return for kickbacks.

The Popular Party was then accused of using a slush fund in the 1990s and early 2000s to illegally finance campaigns after its former treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, was found in 2013 to have hidden millions in secret Swiss bank accounts.

Last year, Mr. Rajoy gave evidence in the case, becoming the first Spanish prime minister to testify in court. But he was not accused of wrongdoing and has denied any involvement.

Just last week, 29 people with links to the Popular Party were convicted by Spain’s National Court on a number of charges related to fraud, tax evasion and money laundering.

Among them were the party’s former treasurer, Mr. Bárcenas, who was sentenced to 33 years in prison and fined about $51.3 million. Mr. Correa received a 51-year sentence.

Judges also ordered Mr. Rajoy’s party to pay a fine of more than $285,000 for operating the slush fund.
And the court questioned the credibility of Mr. Rajoy’s court testimony.
Attacks from the opposition

In elections in 2015 and 2016, no party received a majority of the vote. Mr. Rajoy was left heading a minority government — with the support of the Ciudadanos Party — and in a precarious position.

Last year, he survived a motion of no confidence led by Podemos, a far-left party. He also came under pressure because of his failure to resolve a territorial conflict in Catalonia.

A week ago, after the corruption convictions, Pedro Sánchez, a Socialist and the main opposition leader, filed a motion for Parliament to vote on the government, citing the scandal.

Once he negotiated the support of several smaller parties, including Basque and Catalan nationalist groups, he had momentum for the no-confidence vote. In the end, 180 members of Parliament backed the motion, 169 voted against it and one abstained.

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What We Do Know, Don’t Know, and Need to Know About Knowledge( 21 )

Every so often on social media the question goes around: “if you lived in X period of time in history, what knowledge and skills would you still have that would be useful?” So in the information age of digital knowledge, what is it that we know that will still be useful in the future?

Who Among Us Can Read a Sextant? by Faye Flam ponders this.

In fact, the same force of technological progress may be accelerating society’s collective knowledge and at the same time allowing individuals to forget how to do things that used to be considered essential. That message comes out in rereading Nicholas Carr’s pessimistic 2008 Atlantic piece, and in the optimistic new book “Superminds”: The surprising power of people and computers thinking together.

Carr’s piece, which was the basis for the 2011 bestseller “The Shallows,” ends with a reference to Plato’s “Phaedrus,” in which Socrates warns against the dumbing down effects of writing. No longer would people have to carry important facets of their culture in their heads. But writing allowed people to collaborate over distance and time, expanding collective knowledge about the world in a way that had been impossible before. (Lucky for us, some of Socrates’ followers wrote down some of his ideas.)

Or consider the opening of the book “Guns, Germs, and Steel.” Author Jared Diamond describes one of his scientific expeditions to New Guinea, where a high-ranking politician asks why the white people have more advanced technology than the local people do. Diamond spends the whole book pondering that question, but first he acknowledges that he lacked basic survival skills that were second nature to the New Guineans:

I am constantly aware of how stupid I look to New Guineans when I’m with them in the jungle, displaying my incompetence at simple tasks (such as following a jungle trail or erecting a shelter) at which New Guineans have been trained since childhood and I have not.

In the not-so-far future, people won’t know all kinds of things we now think essential to being “educated”: how to write in cursive, how to multiply and divide on paper, or how to spell most English words. Reading a paper map may seem as antiquated as celestial navigation. And the forgetting of skills is only going to continue as technology advances and incorporates artificial intelligence.

One take-home message in “Superminds” is that artificial intelligence is already here, and already changing the world. It’s beside the point whether a robot with humanlike intelligence is still 20 years away. The author – the management and information technology professor Thomas Malone – quipped at a book talk at MIT last month that people have been saying that humanlike robot intelligence is 20 years away for the last 60 years.

Oh, and by the way…don’t write off the sextant just yet:

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Where Did The Missing Suicides Go?( 7 )

In Search Of Missing US Suicides | Slate Star Codex

The US has fewer nongun suicides than anywhere else. The seemingly obvious explanation is that guns are so common that everyone who wants to commit suicide is using guns, decreasing the non-gun rate. But that contradicts all the nonfungibility evidence above. So the other possibility is that the US ought to have an very low suicide rate, and it’s just all our guns that are bringing us back up to average.

Of all US states, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Hawaii have the fewest guns. Unsurprisingly, suicides in these states are less likely than average to be committed with firearms. In MA, the rate is 22%; in NJ 24%; in HI, 20%. Their suicide rates are 8.8, 7.2, and 12.1, respectively. Hawaii has an unusual ethnic composition – 40% Asian and 20% Native Hawaiian, both groups with high suicide rates (see eg the suicide rate for Japan above). So it might be worth taking Massachusetts and New Jersey as examples to look at in more detail.

Either state, if it were independent, would be among the lowest-suicide-rate developed nations. And both still have more guns than our comparison countries. If we did a really simple linear extrapolation from New Jersey-level gun control to imagine a state where firearms were as restricted as in Britain, we would expect it to have a suicide rate of around 5 or 6 – which is around the current level of non-gun US suicides. This is much lower than any of the large comparison countries in the graph above, but there are two developed countries currently around this level – Italy and Israel. I think it makes sense to suppose that the US might have a low Italy/Israel-style base rate of suicides.

For one thing, it’s unusually religious for a developed country. Religion is one of the strongest protective factors against suicide. This also seems like a good explanation for Italy and Israel.

For another, it’s culturally similar to Britain, which also has a low suicide rate somewhere in the 7s. Other British colonies don’t seem to have kept this effect – Australia and Canada are both higher – but maybe the US did.

And for another, it’s unusually ethnically diverse. Blacks and Hispanics have only about half the suicide rate of whites; which means you would expect the US to be less suicidal than Europe. I previously believed this was because whites had more guns, but this doesn’t seem to be true: Riddell et al find that whites have higher non-firearm suicide rates too. So this could be an additional factor driving US rates down.

He makes a reasonably persuasive case that the suicide rate in the US would be especially low if not for the guns. Which is interesting in and of itself because it seems to me that suicide is one of the things we would be really bad at with or without guns. It turns out that even with guns, we’re pretty average.

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Gravity May or May Not Be “Bipolar”( 16 )

What goes up must come down. Because of Gravity. Maybe.

Excerpted from Bigravity: A Hidden ‘Gear’ for Gravity? By Yuen Yiu in Inside Science:

Scientists have known since at least the 1990s that our universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. But this doesn’t make sense, because gravity — an attractive force like a rubber band — is supposed to cause our universe to contract or at least slow down the expansion.

“It’s like if you took a ball and threw it up in the air, but instead of falling back down, it just kept going up faster and faster,” said Andrew Sullivan, a physicist from Montana State University and author of the paper.

Scientists theorized that some other force must be responsible for ripping the universe apart, and “dark energy” became the placeholder term for the mysterious force.

One way to solve the dark energy riddle is to modify the theory of gravity itself, such that gravity can actually begin to repel over extremely long distances. In other words, the same gravity that is keeping us from falling off the face of the Earth could be ripping apart our universe at the same time.

As early as the 1930s, long before scientists knew about the expansion rate of our universe, Swiss physicists Wolfgang Pauli and Markus Fierz had already speculated that gravity may have a bipolar personality. However, their theory at the time was haunted by what’s known as “ghost modes,” which are parts of a theory that produce nonsensical solutions.

“If a theory has a ghost mode, it’s typically dead in the water,” said Sullivan.

In 2009, physicists Claudia de Rham, Gregory Gabadadze and Andrew Tolley together found a “ghost-free” solution to the bigravity theory, revitalizing the theory as a possible answer to dark energy. But just because the theory is no longer nonsensical doesn’t mean that it is correct. It still needs to stand the test of the scientific method.

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Virginia 33rd State to Expand Medicaid( 2 )

Earlier this week, Virginia became the 33rd State to pass legislation expanding Medicaid. While the national conversation still mostly focuses on the Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as Obamacare, the majority of states have quietly expanded government-run healthcare options, and more appear close to joining them.

The Expanding Medicaid Expansion by Vann R. Newkirk II From The Atlantic:

Virginia is an example of these trends. After five years of deliberation in the state, a Republican-leaning polling firm found that public support of the Medicaid expansion surged to 83 percent this year. And despite not controlling either chamber, Virginia Democrats claimed the 2017 elections as a victory, winning Northam the governor’s house and making major gains in the state legislature. In polls and by ballot, the mandate to expand Medicaid in Virginia was stronger Wednesday than it’d ever been.

Even in states that don’t—or, because of gerrymandering, can’t—have such a strong correlation between popular will and legislative outcomes, citizens have increasingly used direct democratic means to circumvent state officials. In 2017, voters in Maine used a ballot initiative to push Medicaid expansion right past the staunch objections of Republican Governor Paul LePage, and advocates are now suing to compel his administration to move faster on its implementation. On Tuesday, officials in Utah certified that a Medicaid-expansion initiative will be on this November’s ballot. Idaho petitioners await certification of a ballot initiative, and Nebraska petitioners are still gathering signatures for a similar measure. And in Montana, facing the pending expiration of a special Medicaid-expansion waiver program, petitioners are working toward a ballot initiative that would take reauthorization power away from the legislature and give it to voters directly.

With more repeal bills potentially on the horizon, and the Trump administration continuing to dismantle coverage regulations, the overall picture is still murky for health reform and the prospects of even near-universal coverage. The uninsured rate is still increasing, and the cost outlook for people with private insurance doesn’t exactly seem rosy.

But, as Virginia shows, the shape of health care in this country is changing, if fitfully. The public is increasingly supportive of the idea of universal care, and that promise is buoying Democratic hopes to regain state leadership posts. And even in some states that will remain led by committed anti-Obamacare Republicans in perpetuity, thousands of citizens are pushing for their own reforms. The process seems to be moving slowly, but the outcome might already be decided. After all, it took almost two decades for all of the states to adopt the Medicaid program in the first place.

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Rough Day for Russian Attempts to Silence Dissidents( 7 )

A busy 48 hours in the international intrigue business, as two big name Vladimir Putin critics turned up in the news, with some very surprising results.

First on Tuesday came news out of the Ukraine of what appeared to be another dissident journalist assassinated:

NYTimes:

May 29
MOSCOW — A Russian journalist who fled his homeland last year to escape a campaign of intimidation that he said “was so personal, so scary that I was forced to flee” was shot and killed on Tuesday in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.

The killing of the journalist, Arkady Babchenko, a former war correspondent who stirred fury among Russian nationalists with his sharply critical coverage, is the latest in a series of attacks, many of them fatal, on outspoken foes of President Vladimir V. Putin, both inside Russia and beyond.

The Ukrainian police said the journalist was found, bleeding, by his wife in their Kiev apartment building and then rushed by ambulance to a hospital. He died en route from what the police said were multiple gunshot wounds to his back.

Kiev’s police chief, Andriy Krishchenko, said on Ukrainian television that “the first and most obvious” reason for the attack was Mr. Babchenko’s “professional activities,” which included articles and social media posts questioning Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine and Russia’s military role in Syria.

Then came news this morning that Hermitage Capital CEO William Browder, who among other criticisms of the Putin regime was one of the drivers behind the Magnitsky Act, had been arrested in Spain. Browder even live-tweeted his experience.

Bill Browder, a London-based investor who has styled himself as a nemesis of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, documented the latest episode in his 13-year game of cat and mouse with the Russian government, live-tweeting his brief arrest by the Spanish police on Wednesday.

Russia has repeatedly requested Mr. Browder’s arrest through Interpol — this was the sixth such attempt, he said — but its requests have been refused repeatedly. In 2013, in a rare and sharp rebuke, Interpol said Russia’s request to arrest Mr. Browder “was of a predominately political nature.”

A spokesman for the Spanish national police said that Mr. Browder had been detained in error, and that police in Madrid realized the international warrant was no longer valid only after he had been taken into custody.

“There is not, and never has been, a Red Notice for Mr. Bill Browder,” the Interpol media office said in an emailed statement. “Mr. Browder is not wanted via Interpol channels.”

Mr. Browder said he had been arrested while en route to testify to Spanish prosecutors about a corruption case involving Russian officials, and that he was released after the Interpol general secretary in Lyon, France, intervened on his behalf.

Interpol, an organization of 190 countries is forbidden by its constitution from any action of a “political character.” This can make it difficult to obtain red notices, which amount to international arrest warrants.

As Browder was once again free to roam, the Ukrainian police press conference to discuss the Arkady Babchenko murder instantly took a dramatic turn:
NYTimes:

Mr. Babchenko created a sensation in Kiev on Wednesday by appearing at a news conference, billed as a police briefing about his assassination, at which he was greeted by whoops of surprise and scattered applause. It came less than 24 hours after his wife said she had found him bleeding to death on the floor of their apartment, shot in the back.

“First of all, I would like to apologize that all of you had to live through this, because I know the horrible feeling when you have to bury your colleagues,” Mr. Babchenko, 41, told the stunned room. “Separately, I want to apologize to my wife for all the hell she had to go through.”

Mr. Babchenko and the senior officials from the Ukrainian security services who appeared with him said that a contract for $40,000 had been put on his life, and that the only way to track down those responsible was to make it seem as if it had happened.

The operation took two months to plan, they said. Vasily S. Gritsak, the head of Ukraine’s Security Service, said there were two suspects in custody, both of them Ukrainian citizens.

The Ukrainian authorites accused the Russian security services of ordering the assassination of Mr. Babchenko, who fled Russia last year after he faced a harsh campaign of intimidation over his criticism of the Kremlin.

As part of the ruse, the police had said that Mr. Babchenko died while being taken to the hospital and staged pictures of his corpse.

The faked killing had immediately soured the already grim relations between Kiev and Moscow, with both sides accusing the other of carrying it out.

Moscow immediately cranked up its propoganda machine on Wednesday, with talk show guests on state-run television accusing Ukraine of carrying out the killing to make Russia look bad and spoil the World Cup soccer tournament, scheduled to start in Russia on June 14.

With the eyes of the world getting ready to be on Russia for the imminent start of the 2018 World Cup, events in and attached to Russia bear watching.

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