Roger Stone Indicted, Arrested( 12 )

Roger Stone can add an indictment from the Special Counsel’s office to his highly-checkered resume.

CNN:

Roger Stone has been indicted by a grand jury on charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller, who alleges that the longtime Donald Trump associate sought stolen emails from WikiLeaks that could damage Trump’s opponents at the direction of “a senior Trump Campaign official.”

The indictment’s wording does not say who on the campaign knew about Stone’s quest, but makes clear it was multiple people. This is the first time prosecutors have alleged they know of additional people close to the President who worked with Stone as he sought out WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

“After the July 22, 2016, release of stolen (Democratic National Committee) emails by Organization 1, a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact STONE about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 had regarding the Clinton Campaign. STONE thereafter told the Trump Campaign about potential future releases of damaging material by Organization 1,” prosecutors wrote.

Stone was arrested by the FBI Friday morning at his home in Florida, his lawyer tells CNN. He was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia on seven counts, including one count of obstruction of an official proceeding, five counts of false statements, and one count of witness tampering.

The special counsel’s office said he will appear before a federal judge in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at 11 a.m. ET.<

We will see how far Stone’s “I’ll never testify against Donald Trump,” proclamations will go. Also of note, while the indictment details many activities of Stone’s during the campaign, Mueller is only charging offenses that occurred during the investigation. As we have learned, probably best to let this latest blaring headline breathe a bit before making wide-sweeping proclamations of its importance.

Like that’s going to happen.

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BuzzFeed to Cut 15% of Its Workforce( 12 )

The Wall Street Journal is reporting:

BuzzFeed is planning to lay off about 15% of its workforce, according to people familiar with the situation, as the company seeks to reorient itself in a shifting digital-media landscape.

The cuts could affect around 250 jobs, the people said. The firm, among the most high-profile digital-native publishers, also is looking to realign its resources to invest more in promising areas of the business like content licensing and e-commerce, one of the people said.

(Featured image is a screenshot of Buzzfeed’s front page menu.)

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Trump’s Transgender Military Ban Remains- For Now( 5 )

The Supreme Court today voted 5-4 to allow the Trump administration’s restrictions on transgender troops to be implemented while the matter is battled out in lower courts. The five conservative justices, Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, voted to grant the government’s application to stay a nationwide injunction on the restrictions.

From the Washington Post:

The justices lifted nationwide injunctions that had kept the administration’s policy from being implemented.

It reversed an Obama-administration rule that would have opened the military to transgender men and women, and instead barred those who identify with a gender different from the one assigned at birth and who are seeking to transition.

The court’s five conservatives–Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh–allowed the restrictions to go into effect while the court decides to whether to consider the merits of the case.

The liberal justices–Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan–would have kept the injunctions in place.

The Court also turned down a request by the government to hear the matter on its merits, despite the lower court not having ruled yet. So, while the “ban” will go into effect, the controversy is not dead. The litigation in the lower courts will continue.

From the New York Times:

The policy, announced on Twitter by President Trump and refined by the defense secretary at the time, Jim Mattis, generally prohibits people identifying with a gender different from their biological sex from military service. It makes exceptions for several hundred transgender people already serving openly and for those willing to serve “in their biological sex.”

Challenges to the policy have had mixed success in the lower courts. Trial judges around the nation issued injunctions blocking it, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, is expected to rule soon on whether to affirm one of them.

The administration had also asked the justices to immediately hear appeals, an unusual request when an appeals court has not yet ruled. The court turned down those requests.

The Supreme Court’s rules say it will review a federal trial court’s ruling before an appeals court has spoken “only upon a showing that the case is of such imperative public importance as to justify deviation from normal appellate practice and to require immediate determination in this court.”

So, while the “ban” will go into effect, the controversy is not dead; the litigation in the lower courts will continue.

UPDATE: Some reports indicate that one injunction remains in place which prevents the immediate implementation of the ban.

From Mark Joseph Stern, lawyer and writer for Slate:

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What Happened To The 15-Hour Workweek?( 53 )

We wanted something else more:

Well, one explanation is that there are simply more things to want. A supermarket today has thousands of options, and there will always be more things than we can afford.

Advertising—which appears on billboards, in trains and trams, on our smartphone screens, or cleverly disguised as a blog post—is now impossible to escape from, and it exposes us to a never-ending stream of products we didn’t know we needed.

These are well-known complaints. However, there’s another important and poorly understood reason for want expansion. Keynes thought that once our needs were fulfilled, it wouldn’t make sense to work more. However, it turns out that there is a certain need that requires an infinite supply of money to satisfy: the need for social status.

This ties into my writing on the UBI and why I don’t think it would end work as we know it. People will work so they can live around other people that work. So that their “station” is with those that also work.

If we had a 15-hour work week, how would we differentiate ourselves from the people that are only willing to work 15 hours a week?

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The Pending Discovery of Alex Jones( 3 )

I’m not even going to pretend that this possibility doesn’t warm the cockles of my heart.

ABC News:

A judge in Connecticut has granted the families’ discovery requests, allowing them access to, among other things, Infowars’ internal marketing and financial documents.

The judge has scheduled a hearing next week to decide whether to allow the plaintiffs’ attorneys to depose Jones.

The plaintiffs include the parents of five children who went to the school as well as family members of first-grade teacher Victoria Leigh Soto and Principal Dawn Hochsprung, according to a statement from the plaintiff’s attorneys.

There is still quite a bit of doubt that the lawsuit will be successful, as defamation suits have a high burden to clear for public media figures like Jones. Jones and his attorney are claiming everything done by InfoWars is covered by the First Amendment, and they have plenty of precedent to stand on. Still, the fulcrum point of any civil action as to whether it is going anywhere or not is discovery, and having probing eyes into his operations is something Alex Jones cannot be happy about. Scrutiny and conspiracy is something Alex Jones is more accustom to subjecting others too. We already know, from Jones’ own lawyer in his divorce and custody case, that “he’s playing a character” on air, allegedly, so no surprises like that will be shocking. More interesting to some, however, will be the financials, plus the fact that if Jones is found not to comply it could cause even further legal complications. Laying bare the inner working of the InfoWars grifting machine will make Jones’ detractors happy, and if nothing else should be rather entertaining. Who knows what might come of it. We will see.

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The First Day of Amendment 4 for Re-enfranchised Voters( 3 )

Tuesday, 9 January 2019, is the first day that some felons in Florida who previously had their voting rights removed can register to vote again under the effects of Amendment 4. The question is how exactly is that going to work?

Miami Herald

For all the uncertainty surrounding the launch of Amendment 4 in Florida, there’s no question that hundreds of thousands of convicted felons previously unable to participate in the state’s elections will be able to register to vote come Tuesday.
It’s what will happen after they register that remains unclear.

Despite assertions from Amendment 4 advocates that the changes to Florida’s Constitution are self-implementing, incoming Gov. Ron DeSantis reiterated his belief Monday that the Legislature must pass a bill to help guide the Division of Elections as it verifies the eligibility of newly registered voters. An estimated 1.2 million people are expected to regain the right to vote Tuesday as the amendment takes effect, and it’s up to the state to verify whether any of those newly registered voters are ineligible due to a disqualifying criminal offense.

For now, in order to ensure that no one is disenfranchised while the state determines how to comply with Amendment 4, the Division of Elections has stopped running new voters through its felony database. That means those who believe their rights have been restored can register to vote and likely begin participating at the very least in local elections.

This being Florida, there are more than a few concerns with implementation:

Despite assertions from Amendment 4 advocates that the changes to Florida’s Constitution are self-implementing, incoming Gov. Ron DeSantis reiterated his belief Monday that the Legislature must pass a bill to help guide the Division of Elections as it verifies the eligibility of newly registered voters. An estimated 1.2 million people are expected to regain the right to vote Tuesday as the amendment takes effect, and it’s up to the state to verify whether any of those newly registered voters are ineligible due to a disqualifying criminal offense.

For now, in order to ensure that no one is disenfranchised while the state determines how to comply with Amendment 4, the Division of Elections has stopped running new voters through its felony database. That means those who believe their rights have been restored can register to vote and likely begin participating at the very least in local elections.

But it also means that it could be weeks or even months before the state notifies any of those new voters if they’ve been deemed ineligible. And it would potentially compound any controversy should the Legislature take a restrictive interpretation of the amendment.

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Cyntoia Brown Granted Clemency( 32 )

Bill Haslam, Tennessee’s outgoing governor, has granted Cyntoia Brown full clemency.

In 2004, Brown was a 16-year-old living with a man named Garion McGlothen. McGlothen raped and abused Brown; he also forced her into prostitution. It was during this time that she met and then killed Johnny Allen, a man who had raped her. Prosecutors ignored both Brown’s age and the lifetime of abuse she had endured, charging her as an adult and pursuing the maximum possible punishment for her having killed Allen. Prosecutors insisted that Brown had not feared Allen, as she had claimed, and was in fact in no danger. The jury went with the prosecutors, sentencing Brown to life in prison. A Supreme Court decision later clarified that sentencing juveniles to life in prison constituted cruel and unusual punishment, but after an appeal based upon that clarification, Tennessee’s Supreme Court confirmed that Brown would have to serve at least 51 years of her life sentence before she would be eligible for parole.

Brown was the focus of a documentary called Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story and subsequently became a cause for some celebrities, including Rihanna and Kim Kardashian-West. Brown’s case then became a flashpoint in arguments about how the American justice system valued lives, with numerous critics observing that whereas the justice system often bends over backward to excuse away crimes committed by men, it offers no such leniency otherwise. This, then, serves as a step in the right direction.

Brown will be eligible for release on August 7, 2019.

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UBI in 2018( 98 )

Universal Basic Income did not have the banner year it’s proponents had hoped for.

From MIT Tech Review:

Getting people on board with basic income requires data, which is what numerous tests have been trying to obtain. But this year, a number of experiments were cut short, delayed, or ended after a short time. That also means the possible data supply got cut off.

Back in June we declared, “Basic income could work—if you do it Canada style.” We talked to the people on the ground getting the checks in Ontario’s 4,000-person test and saw how it was changing the community. Then, just two months later, it was announced that the program is ending in the new year rather than running for three years. The last checks will be delivered to participants in March 2019.

We’ve been waiting for basic-income data for a while. In 2016, MIT Technology Review predicted that “in 2017, we will find out if basic income makes sense.” There were two main tests we were waiting on. First there was Finland’s promising basic-income program, which received a lot of hype when it was launched in 2017. Then, in 2018, it was revealed that the program would not yet be extended beyond its original trial period. Another experiment, from tech incubator Y Combinator, has also faced more delays, pushing the experiment into 2019.

That isn’t to say all tests of universal basic income have collapsed. In North America alone there are two programs that have been functioning for more than 20 years. Spain and Kenya also have their own high-profile tests under way. But the problems that plagued the Ontario, Finland, and Y Combinator programs illustrate the issues that basic-income programs constantly face.

Meanwhile, in Stockton, CA:

A team of independent researchers randomly selected 1,200 households where the median income is at or below $46,000. From the group, 100 will be selected to receive $500 a month for 18 months. But the response has been slow.

“We’re looking for at least half of the folks who have received the letter to respond back because it gives the evaluators a chance to select the 100 people from that group,” said Tubbs.

SEED is looking to study how an extra $500 will impact people’s health and stress level. They are looking to see if people feel financially secure.

Researchers hope people interested will respond by December 23. Otherwise, it’s back to the drawing board.

“If half the people don’t respond, our research team, our evaluators will find a way to make sure we get a sample size that is representative of the city,” said Tubbs.

If push comes to shove, leaders with SEED will likely send more letters out. For now, researchers are hoping to get enough responses to reflect the number of letters sent out to people.

Who knew it would be so hard to get people to take free money? UBI the concept isn’t new of course, with experiments having been tried in the US as far back as the 60’s. But for now, Universal Basic Income is still trying to find the universal part of the idea, at least in acceptance.

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Your Job Or Your Life( 10 )

Stanford professor: “The workplace is killing people and nobody cares”

I was struck by the story of Robert Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, standing in front of 1,000 other CEOs and saying, “You are the cause of the healthcare crisis.”

Jeffrey Pfeffer: It’s true. He takes three points and puts them together. The first point, which is consistent with data reported by the World Economic Forum and other sources, is that an enormous percentage of the health care cost burden in the developed world, and in particular in the U.S., comes from chronic disease–things like diabetes and cardiovascular and circulatory disease. You begin with that premise: A large fraction–some estimates are 75 percent–of the disease burden in the U.S. is from chronic diseases.

Second, there is a tremendous amount of epidemiological literature that suggests that diabetes, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome—and many health-relevant individual behaviors such as overeating and underexercising and drug and alcohol abuse–come from stress.

And third, there is a large amount of data that suggests the biggest source of stress is the workplace. So that’s how Chapman can stand up and make the statement that CEOs are the cause of the health care crisis: You are the source of stress, stress causes chronic disease, and chronic disease is the biggest component of our ongoing and enormous health care costs.

All of the individual elements of this make sense, though I wonder how it looks when you start putting them together. Do people who work on their feet have fewer health problems than those that sit at a desk? How do alcohol and drug abuse compare between those working and not working? How about those who work longer hours vs shorter hours?

My sense is the picture is a little more complicated.

But something to think about.

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James Mattis Resigns as Secretary of Defense( 37 )

Thursday evening President Trump tweeted out that Secretary of Defense James Mattis would be retiring, thanking him for his service. Soon after, the former general’s own letter announcing his departure became public, and along with reporting that he had delivered it to the president after meeting with him on Syria, it is clear Mattis resigned among differences with the administration.

Full Text of Secretary Mattis’ letter to President Trump, via CNN:

Dear Mr. President:

I have been privileged to serve as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals.

I am proud of the progress that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy: putting the Department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the Department’s business practices for greater performance. Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong U.S. global influence.

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.

Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model – gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions – to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department’s interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February. Further, that a full transition to a new Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability Within the Department.

I pledge my full effort to a smooth transition that ensures the needs and interests of the 2.15 million Service Members and 732,079 DoD civilians receive undistracted attention of the Department at all times so that they can fulfill their critical, round-the-clock mission to protect the American people.

I very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform.

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Real Fake News( 35 )

Der Spiegel is a popular German news magazine, and is world-renowned for their in-depth investigative reporting. But now they are answering investigative questions themselves, as prominent journalist Claas Relotius has been found to be a fraud.

The Guardian

The media world was stunned by the revelations that the award-winning journalist Claas Relotius had, according to the weekly, “made up stories and invented protagonists” in at least 14 out of 60 articles that appeared in its print and online editions, warning that other outlets could also be affected.

Relotius, 33, resigned after admitting to the scam. He had written for the magazine for seven years and won numerous awards for his investigative journalism, including CNN Journalist of the Year in 2014.

Earlier this month, he won Germany’s Reporterpreis (Reporter of the Year) for his story about a young Syrian boy, which the jurors praised for its “lightness, poetry and relevance”. It has since emerged that all the sources for his reportage were at best hazy, and much of what he wrote was made up.

The falsification came to light after a colleague who worked with him on a story along the US-Mexican border raised suspicions about some of the details in Relotius’s reporting, having harboured doubts about him for some time.

The colleague, Juan Moreno, eventually tracked down two alleged sources quoted extensively by Relotius in the article, which was published in November. Both said they had never met Relotius. Relotius had also lied about seeing a hand-painted sign that read “Mexicans keep out”, a subsequent investigation found.

Other fraudulent stories included one about a Yemeni prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, and one about the American football star Colin Kaepernick.

In a lengthy article, Spiegel, which sells about 725,000 print copies a month and has an online readership of more than 6.5 million, said it was “shocked” by the discovery and apologised to its readers and to anyone who may have been the subject of “fraudulent quotes, made-up personal details or invented scenes at fictitious places”.

Relotius is not just a low-level reporter cutting corners to get ahead. He was named CNN Journalist of the Year in 2014, and just this month won Germany’s Reporterpreis (Reporter of the Year) prize. Der Spiegel has long been the highest profile of German news outlets, but this scandal threatens the 70 year old institution at a time when all media, and print publications in particular, are struggling to find their way. One journalist’s conduct over the course of the last several years has now called both Der Spiegel’s reputation, and future, into question.

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Yale, Women, & the Tournament of Meritocracy( 2 )

If you can get into Yale or the University of Kentucky, which should you go to? It depends

Economists have now found, again using excellent methods widely accepted by researchers on the left and right, that, for a male student admitted at a highly selective school like Yale, it doesn’t matter where he goes. If he goes to Yale, he’ll do fine surrounded by brilliant peers. If he goes to the University of Kentucky, he’ll do fine as a big fish on campus.

But for women, attending a highly selective school has massive effects. A young woman admitted to both UK and Yale faces a resounding choice about her future life. If she chooses Yale, odds are that her annual income when she is 40 will be about 40-70 percent more. However, her odds of ever getting married are about 25 percentage points, or about one third, lower. Crucially, her odds of having a higher income rise only if she gets married! {…}

In other words, Yale doesn’t make women better off: it makes women who win the meritocracy tournament better off, and leaves the rest no better off, but with plenty of debt and no spouse. Crucially, the study authors can’t say exactly why this is happening, but a substantial driver seems to be about spousal characteristics. Going to Yale seems to make women marry much higher-earning men than going to UK does, even for women of similar family backgrounds and SAT scores. Either Yale women find these men, get married, and end up as a wealthy power couple, or they hold out for the perfect guy… forever.

This is the best sort of fascinating: The kind where it’s difficult to draw conclusions from. For women choosing between Kentucky or Yale it does sound like a lot of other choices for people (generally) in the upper middle class: High risk/reward meritocracy vs comparative safety with a lower ceiling.

Lyman Stone goes on in a tweet thread:

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An Old Problem in the Present Day for New Media( 2 )

Whereas once they were thought to be climbing to success upon the dying corpses of newspapers and magazines, “new media” publishers and websites find times are getting tough. The same fate that brought low their predecessors, the drying up of advertising dollars, might be in the offing for them, too. Nothing is easy in life or business, especially when you are dependent on the ever-shifting world of online advertising for revenue.

SFGate:

While spending on digital advertising has quadrupled since 2010, an increasing proportion is directed to Google and Facebook. This year, Google, including YouTube, received about 44 percent of digital ad dollars, according to eMarketer, a digital research firm. Facebook has about 21 percent.

“This is a big deal: The Platforms are the FAANG companies (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google),” said Peter Horan, a venture capitalist and head of Horan Mediatech Advisors. “They have put themselves in between media companies and both their readers and advertisers. It’s important to remember that these companies are in an arms race among each other.”

Mic is not the only new media company to struggle recently. In November, Disney said it would write down the value of its investment in Vice Media by $157 million. Vox is expected to miss projections this year.

After reportedly missing revenue projections last year, BuzzFeed launched an aggressive effort to diversify its revenue, including selling cookware at WalMart and consulting with other companies, including Maybelline, to develop new products with viral social media potential.

The company drove $36 million in sales to retail partners such as Macy’s, Amazon and WalMart through a new affiliate marketing program, according to a company spokesman.

These companies correctly identified weaknesses in legacy media companies and readers responded well to them, Horan said. But growth rates have started to slow, he said.

“Companies like Vice, BuzzFeed, Mic, Little Things were not actually committed to making money in the media business,” Horan said. “Their premise was that they could achieve escape velocity with their audience and revenue growth and either go public or get acquired.”
“The public has gotten more and better content than they would pay for or that ads could support,” Horan said. “It was therefore not a priority to make money.”

There are as many theories on how to make money, especially online, as there are people trying to do so. Henry Ford, who in his day took a new technology and not only revolutionized it’s manufacturing but turned that process into monetized marketing for his business, once said “Many inventors fail because they do not distinguish between planning and experimenting.” It would appear that some in the “new media”, especially those initially flush with investor’s cashflow, confused the two.

Or perhaps they just assumed, against that oldest of business maxims, that digital trees were different that all previous trees, and this time they really would grow to the sky. Apparently not.

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What Built This City?( 41 )

This is a fascinating interview that touches on a number of interesting aspects.

You frame cities as labor markets. What do you mean by that?

Sometimes when I read the papers of my fellow urban planners, I get the sense that they think cities are Disneyland or Club Med. Cities are labor markets. People go to cities to find a good job. Firms move to cities, which are expensive, because they are more likely to find the staff and specialists that they need. If a city’s attractive, that’s a bonus. But basically, they come to get a job.

This is one of the lessons I learned when I worked in China in the early 1980s, when it was still very much a command economy. There were no labor markets. People would get a job in a state factory, and they would stay there for life. The factory would provide housing next door. Similarly, state factories were stuck where they were, with the workers they had. There was an enormous mismatch between employees and employers and everyone was worse off. {…}

Some of the most interesting stories you tell fall in these times of transition, as command economies like the Soviet Union, China, and Vietnam transitioned to market economies. What was it like working as an urban planner in those cities?

In a way, the dream of every urban planner or architect is to not be constrained by the market. You believe, as an architect or as a planner, that you alone could efficiently allocate land uses and densities, just like designing a house.

I quickly realized that if you do not have prices to guide you, you end up relying on arbitrary norms. For example, in China, the central government decided that every home must have one full hour of sunshine each day. So you would plug in the height, latitude, and angle of the sun at winter solstice for your site, and that would formulaically spit out the permitted density of housing.

This was not an entirely silly idea! If you don’t have prices to show how land should be used, you must fall back on strange heuristics like this. You try to find something that sounds scientific. The angle of the sun in Beijing at winter solstice is completely scientific. What’s not scientific is setting sunlight standards for the housing of an entire country.

Cities attract workers, workers create the culture, which then attracts more jobs. Richard Florida built a name trying to convince cities that they could short-circuit the process by creating the culture to attract the right workers, only admitting he was wrong after cities spent fortunes they didn’t have. My view is that cities should take a page from Bob Dylan, who desperately wanted to be Elvis but surveyed the market and found that he would instead be the best Woody Guthrie he could be. The markets only needs so many Seattles.

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Donald Trump Is a Good President( 18 )

Well, this is a point of view.

In all sincerity, I like Americans a lot; I’ve met many lovely people in the United States, and I empathize with the shame many Americans (and not only “New York intellectuals”) feel at having such an appalling clown for a leader.

However, I have to ask—and I know what I’m requesting isn’t easy for you—that you consider things for a moment from a non-American point of view. I don’t mean “from a French point of view,” which would be asking too much; let’s say, “from the point of view of the rest of the world.”

On the numerous occasions when I’ve been questioned about Donald Trump’s election, I’ve replied that I don’t give a shit. France isn’t Wyoming or Arkansas. France is an independent country, more or less, and will become totally independent once again when the European Union is dissolved (the sooner, the better).

The United States of America is no longer the world’s leading power. It was for a long time, for almost the entire course of the twentieth century. It isn’t anymore.

It remains a major power, one among several.

This isn’t necessarily bad news for Americans.

It’s very good news for the rest of the world.

I’m not sure the rest of the world actually agrees with this, though.

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Michael Cohen Sentenced to 36 Months in Prison( 48 )

President Trump’s long-time personal attorney Michael Cohen has been sentenced of 3 years in prison, after having plead guilty to 9 charged crimes in federal court.

ABC News

Before leveling his sentence, U.S. Judge William Pauley said “Cohen pled guilt to a veritable smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct” and “lost his moral compass,” according to a Newsday reporter inside the courtroom.

Judge Pauley added that “as a lawyer, Mr. Cohen should have known better.”

Cohen pleaded his case for leniency in front of a federal judge in Manhattan, accusing President Trump – his former boss – of causing him to “follow a path of darkness rather than light” and “cover up his dirty deeds,” according to the Newsday reporter.

Prosecutors in the Justice Department’s Southern District of New York charged Cohen with eight felony counts in August, including tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, and campaign finance violations. Special counsel Robert Mueller, tasked with investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, tacked on an additional count of lying to Congress last month.

Cohen has pleaded guilty to all nine counts.

Cohen, who once defiantly declared he would “take a bullet for Donald Trump,” will have to settle for a prison term instead, not to mention a decidedly less than supportive former employer:

“He’s a weak person,” Trump told reporters on the White House South Lawn before departing for Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“He was convicted with a fairly long-term sentence with things unrelated to the Trump Organization,” Trump said, citing Cohen’s legal issues with mortgages and the IRS.

Trump speculated that “what he’s trying to do is get a reduced sentence.”

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Full Speed, Opposite Direction( 2 )

Ammon Bundy Quits Militia Movement in Solidarity With Migrant Caravan

Ammon Bundy is best known as a leading light of the American militia movement (a motley coalition of various different flavors of firearms enthusiasts who hate the federal government). He’s famous for getting into armed standoffs with federal agents and violently occupying bird sanctuaries. His friends are the kind of folks who co-chair pro-Trump veterans groups; his father is the kind of man who says, “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro” — and proceeds to explain why black people were “better off as slaves.”

So, this being 2018, Bundy naturally just disavowed the militia movement in solidarity with the migrant caravan, suggested that nationalism is actually the opposite of patriotism, and said that Trump’s America resembles nothing so much as 1930s Germany.

Last week, Bundy posted a video to Facebook in which he criticized President Trump for demonizing the Central American migrants who were traveling in a caravan to seek asylum in the United States.

This is the biggest return character plot twist since Scott Ritter came back as an anti-war activist.

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The Sentimentally Great Economy( 65 )

Conor Sen: A Steady Job Beats a Higher Paycheck

Despite this “hard economic data,” the “soft economic data” — public sentiment — shows that the economy and labor market are perceived to be about as good as they’ve ever been. Gallup has been asking the public every month since 2001 what it considers the nation’s most important problem, and in November only 13 percent responded with an economic problem. The just-completed midterm elections were largely a referendum on health care and President Donald Trump, not on the economy. […]

As a worker, I’d rather be in a labor market with lots of job postings, a low level of jobless claims and a sustainable level of wage growth. It’s certainly preferable to being in one fueled by speculative excess, where I have to constantly worry about when the mania is going to collapse. I’ll take 3 percent wage growth today with good prospects for being employed tomorrow over 4 percent wage growth today and unemployment tomorrow. […]

The good news for workers today, and perhaps why their optimism is higher than some economic data might suggest, is that there’s no reason why this labor market can’t continue for at least several more quarters. The excesses of the past couple years have been in financial markets, not in the real economy. Bubbles in cryptocurrencies, cannabis and private technology companies should not lead to a heavy-handed response from the Fed. Household leverage remains low, and business investment remains modest.

It’s remarkable how much of the employment web site ads I see are aimed at employers rather than people looking for work. That’s a new phenomenon. And like Sen, I don’t think a recession is necessarily right around the corner, as many are predicting. Wishful thinking? Maybe.

On the other hand, there are still some indications that our labor market still has some work to do.

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Please Update Your Bookmarks( 0 )

… if you’re still using our original URL.

As we finish up the server migration, one of the last steps will be moving over the ordinary-gentlemen-dot-com domain. During this process, it may stop forwarding to ordinary-times-dot-com. This is temporary, but we should all probably go ahead and update our bookmarks anyway and now seems like a pretty good time to do so.

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Troop Opposition To Trump Growing( 17 )

Support has dipped a bit, but opposition is up and the gap has closed:

President Donald Trump’s approval rating among active-duty military personnel has slipped over the last two years, leaving today’s troops evenly split over whether they’re happy with the commander in chief’s job performance, according to the results of a new Military Times poll of active-duty service members.

About 44 percent of troops had a favorable view of Trump’s presidency, the poll showed, compared to 43 percent who disapproved.

The results from the survey, conducted over the course of September and October, suggest a gradual decline in troops’ support of Trump since he was elected in fall 2016, when a similar Military Times poll showed that 46 percent of troops approved of Trump compared to 37 percent who disapproved. That nine-point margin of support now appears gone.

“The troops are turning Democratic!” is a thing I’ve been hearing since 2004. Maybe it’s happening now, or maybe it’s just Trump.

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Quiet For Quiet( 0 )

Sometimes people don’t like that they kind of want peace:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared Hamas to ISIS earlier this week and said that there was no diplomatic solution for the conflict, but also said that war should be a last resort, and Israel will do what it can to avoid it. The responses were not particularly accepting. Yet the cabinet’s decision – or lack of a decision – on Tuesday seemed to follow that reasoning.

There was no vote in the cabinet on what to do next, since no ministers put up a fight against security officials’ suggestions, which Netanyahu strongly supported – Israel should follow a “quiet for quiet” formulation, meaning that it will hold its fire as long as Hamas does.

A strange thing happened almost immediately after sources briefed reporters that the cabinet unanimously decided to accept a ceasefire with Hamas: ministers began denying it.

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Too Sexy For That Job, Too Sexy For That Job…( 9 )

This doesn’t surprise me at all, actually.

According to a new study carried out in the US and UK, handsome men are more likely to be seen as a threat by their bosses and are hence less likely to score equally powerful positions. The study involved researchers at University College London’s School of Management and the University of Maryland in the US carrying out four separate experiments in four different offices, according to the Daily Mail. They found that when men were hiring other men to work with them, their decision was negatively affected by the attractiveness of the candidate and the type of job. Women’s perceived hotness, shockingly, did not prevent them from being desirable additions to the boardroom.

“Managers are affected by stereotypes and make hiring decisions to serve their own self-interests so organizations may not get the most competent candidates” said professor Sun Young Lee, lead researcher at the University of Maryland. “With more companies involving employees in recruitment processes, this important point needs attention. Awareness that hiring is affected by potential work relationships and stereotyping tendencies can help organizations improve their selection processes.”

Men have a tendency to be really catty (for lack of a better term) when it comes to attractive actors. It took a decade before guys would admit that Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio had talent, and I think a lot of that is based on assumptions that they were just pretty boys.

I remember a guy back when I was in college or just out of it. Took me a long time to warm up to him. I realized at some point it was because I was making assumptions about him based on his gorgeous appearance. It wasn’t even jealousy in any real sense. It was just a sense of “guys that look like that.”

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California Congressman gives “nukes” as reason that any American civil war would be a short one( 34 )

John Cardillo, of Newsmax (yeah, I know… he’s not the point), tweeted this:

If the tweet disappears, it’s a link to an article by NBC talking about California Congressman Eric Swalwell calling for a confiscation of assault rifles.

A Republican Bluecheck (somebody I’ve never heard of) made a tweet in response and the congressman in question tweeted back this (the link is good as of right now but here’s a screenshot if, for whatever reason, the tweet isn’t there later):

California Congressman gives "nukes" as reason that any American civil war would be a short one

(Image is taken from Rep. Eric Swalwell’s twitter banner.)

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A Japanese History of America, 1861( 4 )

This whole thread is amazing. A couple of snippits.

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The People v Facebook( 15 )

Goodness gracious:

When Facebook users learned last spring that the company had compromised their privacy in its rush to expand, allowing access to the personal information of tens of millions of people to a political data firm linked to President Trump, Facebook sought to deflect blame and mask the extent of the problem.

And when that failed — as the company’s stock price plummeted and sparked a consumer backlash — Facebook went on the attack.

While Mr. Zuckerberg conducted a public apology tour in the last year, Ms. Sandberg has overseen an aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook’s critics, shift public anger toward rival companies and ward off damaging regulation. Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros. It also tapped its business relationships, persuading a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.

In Washington, allies of Facebook, including Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate leader, intervened on its behalf. And Ms. Sandberg wooed or cajoled hostile lawmakers, while trying to dispel Facebook’s reputation as a bastion of Bay Area liberalism.

I’ve long believed that Facebook is particularly vulnerable, compared to many of the companies presently considered to be their peers, because they don’t offer a hard service nor are their central to the Internet or computing experience. They need goodwill. Which makes stuff like this so potentially bad for them, and also compels them to do it in the first place.

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Police Kill Good Guy With A Gun( 193 )

Jemel Roberson was a security guard at Manny’s Blue Room, a bar in Robbins, Illinois. Patrons there got drunk and were asked to leave and, although they initially did so, they then returned and started shooting. Roberson was armed. He returned fire and eventually apprehended one of the shooters. Then, the Midlothian Police Department arrived. Patrons told the police that Roberson was a security guard at the bar.

Four people were injured in the shooting but will survive. A fifth was shot and killed. The fifth was Jemel Roberson. He was, by every imaginable measure, the platonic ideal of the NRA’s “Good Guy With A Gun” argument. The police killed him anyway. His heroism had not mattered in the end. 

Meanwhile, all of the following people survived their encounters with the police:

The police are capable, in other words, of not shooting, or at least, it would sure seem like it. They choose not to in certain cases. Roberson’s mistake was not being one of those certain cases.

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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg hospitalized after fall in her office( 13 )

From USA Today:

WASHINGTON – Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in the hospital after falling in her office Wednesday night, the Court announced in a statement on Thursday.

Ginsburg, 85, went home after the fall but continued to experience “discomfort overnight” and went to George Washington Hospital early Thursday. Tests revealed she fractured three ribs and she “was admitted for observation and treatment,” according to the statement

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Jeff Sessions Resigns as US Attorney General( 58 )

On a news day that was already anything but slow, the White House announced that Jeff Sessions has resigned from his position as attorney general, at the request of President Trump.

From CNN:

President Donald Trump on Wednesday asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign, effectively firing him.

Sessions’ resignation letter has been delivered to White House chief of staff John Kelly.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is expected to remain in charge of the Russia investigation and special counsel Robert Mueller.

Trump did not answer a direct question about Sessions during his news conference Wednesday, saying that on the whole he is “extremely” satisfied with his Cabinet.

No word yet on who may replace Sessions, a former senator from Alabama, but his Chief of Staff, Matthew Whitaker, will take over as Acting Attorney General in the interim, per Fox News.

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The Perseverance of the Monarchy( 20 )

It survives!

It is good that it does. There is nothing to say that Britain, Australia or any other country has to have a monarchy. It would be perfectly understandable if Australia decided to break its monarchical ties with Britain. There are many who would argue that it would be an essential step in Australia’s coming of age, the point at which it would finally outgrow its colonial master. There are few in Britain who would seek to stand in the way of Australian republicanism.

Yet monarchy has proved remarkably durable in Australia. We are nearly a generation on from 1999, when Australians voted 55 per cent to 45 per cent to retain the monarchy, defying the wishes of a Constitutional Convention of appointed worthies. In the event, every state bar the Capital Territory rejected the proposed appointed presidency. There is little indication that the result would be any different now. While some polls have put support for a republic at just over 50 per cent, the polls in 1999, too, showed republicanism on course for victory. In the end, however, the public denied the political class what it wished for — which was its own aggrandisation.

That is the point about republicanism — in Britain, Australia and elsewhere. While it can seem notionally attractive, its appeal tends to wane when people realise what would almost certainly replace it: a party politician as head of state. ‘Would you like Britain to be a republic?’ is a question which is sure to elicit a different answer to ‘Would you like Tony Blair or David Cameron to be installed at Buckingham Palace and to swan around the world representing Britain?’ The current incumbents of the White House and the Elysée Palace do nothing to promote the cause of republicanism — one a narcissist and the other with the air of Napoleon. It is marked how modest, both in lifestyle and cost to the taxpayer, Elizabeth II — and all other monarchs of western democracies — seem in comparison.

The best part is how it was basically saved by its millennial generation. It’s actually so strong that Charles may not even have to abdicate and let it pass him by, which some people suspected would be the only way it could be saved.

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Goliath vs Goliath: Retailers & Banks( 3 )

It’s Amazon vs MasterCard

One possible change would be that high-end Visa and Mastercard rewards cards could become more like American Express: accepted at fewer retailers. But another likely effect is retailers, especially giant retailers like Amazon, would gain more leverage to negotiate down the fees they pay to accept premium cards.

If that happens, banks may have to cut back the generosity of rewards programs to adjust to lower transaction-fee income.

That’s what happened after Australia capped credit-card interchange fees in 2003: Merchants’ costs to process cards fell sharply, as did the generosity of rewards paid to credit-card holders. Annual credit card fees went up.

Philip Lowe, then an economist at the Reserve Bank of Australia and now its head, said he was “confident that these lower costs will flow through into lower prices for goods and services,” estimating they would lower consumer prices overall by 0.1 or 0.2 percent.

I am more sympathetic to the retailers position, though the ones they list (Amazon, Target, Home Depot) don’t exactly inspire me. But a lot of retailers aren’t those big shots. This seems like a bit of an extension of the question of whether retailers can do a surcharge. All of this rides on the scarcity of card providers.

Which actually makes me wonder if the biggest of the big, like Amazon and Walmart, can’t at some point circumvent the credit card companies altogether. Feel free to tell me in the comments why that is so off-base.

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Social Capital & The Internet( 2 )

Is the Internet tearing down social institutions? Maybe.

Our results paint a complex picture. We find that, after the advent of the broadband in the area, several indicators of social capital started to decrease with proximity to the node of the network, suggesting that the exposure to fast Internet displaced some dimensions of social capital, but not all of them. There is no evidence that broadband access displaced routine interactions such as meetings with friends.

However, fast Internet crowded out forms of cultural consumption that are usually enjoyed in company, such as watching movies at the cinema and attending concerts and theatre shows. In addition, broadband penetration significantly displaced civic engagement and political participation, i.e. time-consuming activities that usually take place during leisure time, are not pursued in order to reach particularistic goals, and generally relate to a non-self-interested involvement in public affairs.

Associational activities have been often mentioned as a form of bridging social capital creating positive societal and economic externalities, and the finding in this paper suggests an explanation for their reportedly declining trend.

The developing role of fast Internet use, however, certainly calls for further investigation, as social media dramatically changed the role of Internet use. A more recent wave of Internet studies suggests that social media may also support collective action and political mobilization, especially in young democracies and authoritarian regimes, thereby providing a potentially positive contribution to the strengthening of political participation.

The internet has been a lifesaver for me as I have moved from one place to another to another, though I really do have to be careful not to let it become the entirety of my social life. Especially given that wherever we end up, my local social options are going to be more limited than for most people.

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The Importance of Placebos( 5 )

One of the dangers of patient satisfaction surveys and websites:

If we keep overprescribing [antibiotics], they will be completely ineffective. The consequences of this are huge,” Mangione-Smith says.

Why, then, do physicians prescribe them when they’re not called for?

One reason might be to keep their ratings high.

In the study, reviews for the telemedicine service were quite high overall — 87 percent of encounters earned 5 out of 5 stars for patients. But the reviews were significantly higher if the patients received a prescription, especially if it was for an antibiotic. Seventy-two percent of patients gave 5-star ratings after visits with no resulting prescriptions, 86 percent gave 5 stars when they got a prescription for something other than an antibiotic, and 90 percent gave 5 stars when they received an antibiotic prescription.

In fact, no other factor was as strongly associated with patient satisfaction as whether they received a prescription for an antibiotic.

Hadn’t heard this about anti-biotics before. It’s hard to describe the rather intense pressure my wife is under to prescribe pain-killers. Of the handful of times her safety has been threatened, all but one involved drugs she wouldn’t prescribe.

Even though there’s no addiction issue, it’s not hard to imagine that there are lesser variations of this for anti-biotics.

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It’s Important To Work( 5 )

Your life may depend on it:

We estimate the causal effect of permanent and premature exits from the labor force on mortality. To overcome the problem of negative health selection into early retirement, we exploit a policy change in unemployment insurance rules in Austria that allowed workers in eligible regions to exit the labor force 3 years earlier compared to workers in non-eligible regions. Using administrative data with precise information on mortality and retirement, we find that the policy change induced eligible workers to exit the labor force significantly earlier. Instrumental variable estimation results show that for men retiring one year earlier causes a 6.8% increase in the risk of premature death and 0.2 years reduction in the age at death, but has no significant effect for women.

Implications:

  1. A work component to UBI might be smart.
  2. Does this matter for younger people? If so, it endorses child care so that people like me have regular jobs.
  3. The protestant work ethic is redeemed!
  4. It’s actually impossible to tease out all of the confounding factors for something like this.
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Multiple Dead, Dozen Wounded in Pittsburg Synagogue Attack( 0 )

The Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill part of Pittsburg, PA, a historic Jewish neighborhood, was attacked by what is reported as a lone shooter. The synagogue was holding various Shabbat services and there are dead and casualties, including responding law enforcement officers. The suspect was taken into custody alive.

CNN:

Multiple people have been killed in Saturday morning’s shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, according to a city official.

The shooter surrendered to Pittsburgh police and was being transported to Mercy Hospital, said Curt Conrad, chief of staff for City Councilman Corey O’Connor.

Another law enforcement official told CNN at least 12 people have been shot.
Three police officers were shot, officials said earlier at an impromptu press conference. It’s unclear if they are part of those casualties.

The shooter made anti-Jewish comments during the incident, a law enforcement official told CNN.

Police respond to the shooting Saturday at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh police Cmdr. Jason Lando previously said there were “multiple casualties.” Officers were dispatched to the scene after receiving reports of active gunfire at the synagogue, he said.

Initial reports on the suspect:[1]

The President weighed in prior to boarding Air Force 1:

[1] Whereas normally we withhold and do not broadcast shooters identities with things like school shootings and other such events, with there being no doubt to the suspect here, and the motives and his background being relevant, we have done so here

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