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Democrats are ignoring the power of the hospital industry • Prospect Magazine
David Dayen:
<p>The [American] public interacts with [American] health care in two ways. Their doctor heals them, and their insurance company hassles them. They visit their doctor and pay their insurer. Their doctor wants to make them well, and their insurance company wants to restrict the care they receive. “Why is the spotlight on the intermediary in this industry when they’re a small fraction in terms of the revenues?” asks Leemore Dafny of Harvard Business School, referring to the insurance industry. “And it’s what you think it is. It’s really easy to hate the intermediary.”

But in the absence of political leaders telling the truth about who charges the prices and who gouges patients, the public has no alternative story. They’ll keep loving their doctor, and seek out other villains. That cuts against this truth: nobody has resisted changes to the broken health-care system more than the hospital industry.

Take “surprise billing,” as mentioned before one of the most outrageous scams in health care. Unknown to them, patients get out-of-network services from ambulance companies or radiologists or anesthesiologists, and are on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars in charges. You won’t be, well, surprised to learn that surprise billing is being driven by the private equity industry, which has recently upped its investments in hospitals.</p>


It seems that there are lots of perverse incentives going around. Doctors don't have any disincentive to order more and more expensive treatments; it just gets passed on to the insurer. But hospitals in the US do go bust, or close because they don't get income. Certainly, there's plenty of blame to go around the US healthcare "system".
america  healthcare  hospital 
6 weeks ago by charlesarthur
Does Russia want more than your old face? • The New York Times
Kara Swisher:
<p>Another interesting idea is the possible emergence of “sovereign clouds,” storage limited to a specific group of users, that would create strong borders of digital participation, not just among and between countries but also among and between companies.

I am still trying to wrap my head around the idea of more tech fences, because they feel like a backtracking of the core idea of open global networks, which have transformed the world and created huge wealth and societal transformation.

Of course, despite the focus on Russia’s FaceApp, the real game afoot, as most here at the forum agreed, is the race between the United States and China for global tech dominance. That’s been most clear in the efforts by American officials to throttle back the Chinese tech-giant Huawei from being the one to build next-generation 5G cellphone networks across the world.

That theme was one of the overall points made by Adm. Philip Davidson, head of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, in a talk titled “Military Competition with China: Maintaining America’s Edge.” The admiral noted that keeping up is a matter of national security, as China could surpass American capabilities in the region by 2050, especially technologically.</p>


2050? That's a pretty pessimistic view of China's capabilities, unless the admiral was using the 24-hour clock, in which case carry on.
china  america  internet  faceapp 
8 weeks ago by charlesarthur
Florida DMV sells your personal information to private companies, marketing firms • ABC Action News
Adam Walser:
<p>In Idaho, [Tonia] Batson lived in a group home where someone else handled her finances, daily living and healthcare arrangements. She had no digital footprint because she can’t read or write.

That’s why [Batson’s sister and legal guardian Sonia] Arvin wanted to know how marketers got Batson’s personal information.

“The only one that had it was the DMV,” said Arvin. “Even if it’s a public record in Florida – if we tell them we want it private, it should be kept private.”

The state opened an investigation into Batson’s case after ABC alerted FHSMV officials.

That’s because Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FHSMV) said companies buying data on Floridians are not allowed to use that information for marketing.

But not every company plays by the rules.

The state told ABC it has banned data sales to three companies since 2017 for misusing driver and ID cardholder information.

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles told ABC that under the law, it must provide driver information but said federal privacy laws and its own rules limit how outside companies can access Floridian’s personal information.

One of the data brokers accessing Florida DMV information is Arkansas-based marketing firm Acxiom, which has an agreement with the state to buy driver and ID cardholder data for a penny a record.

On its website, Acxiom claims it has collected information from almost every adult in the United States.</p>

A penny per record. The incentive for flouting that is far higher, and the fines probably much lower - if fines are handed out (none are mentioned in the story).

US data privacy? It would be a nice idea. But if even the government is selling your data, people like Facebook could legitimately claim, Catch-22 style, that “everyone’s doing it, so I’d be a fool not to”.
Data  Florida  dmv  America 
8 weeks ago by charlesarthur
Trump approved cyber-strikes against Iran’s missile systems • The Washington Post
Ellen Nakashima:
<p>President Trump approved an offensive cyberstrike that disabled Iranian computer systems used to control rocket and missile launches, even as he backed away from a conventional military attack in response to its downing Thursday of an unmanned US surveillance drone, according to people familiar with the matter.

The cyberstrikes, launched Thursday night by personnel with US Cyber Command, were in the works for weeks if not months, according to two of these people, who said the Pentagon proposed launching them after Iran’s alleged attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman earlier this month.

The strike against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was coordinated with US Central Command, the military organization with purview of activity throughout the Middle East, these people said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the operation remains extremely sensitive.

Though crippling to Iran’s military command and control systems, the operation did not involve a loss of life or civilian casualties — a contrast to conventional strikes, which the president said he called back Thursday because they would not be “proportionate.”</p>


My reading of this is that the cyberattacks were to disable the missile defences against the planned US missile attack. Which makes sense.

What's absurd about the entire US-Iran scenario, though, is that the US unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA, on spurious claims (repudiated by every other western signatory to the JCPOA) that Iran was breaching its requirements. Then Iran says it's enriching its nuclear fuel, because if it isn't bound by the JCPOA any more, then it might as well because there's no agreement to break any more. To which John Bolton, who never saw a tense situation that he didn't want to turn into a conflagration, declares that Iran is going too far and rattles his sabre. Whose fault was this? America's. Who's going to suffer? Not America. This isn't a symmetrical allocation.
internet  military  america  bolton 
12 weeks ago by charlesarthur
The coming generation war • The Atlantic
Niall Ferguson and Eyck Freymann:
<p>As Karl Mannheim pointed out more than 90 years ago, a generation is defined not solely by its birth years but also by the principal historical experience its members shared in their youth, whatever that might be. Nevertheless, we do believe that a generational division is growing in American politics that could prove more important than the cleavages of race and class, which are the more traditional focuses of political analysis.

<img src="https://cdn.theatlantic.com/assets/media/img/posts/2019/05/Screen_Shot_2019_05_03_at_9.34.09_AM/3eae3cf27.png" width="100%" />

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is often described as a radical, but the data show that her views are close to the median for her generation. The Millennials and Generation Z—that is, Americans aged 18 to 38—are generations to whom little has been given, and of whom much is expected. Young Americans are burdened by student loans and credit-card debt. They face stagnant real wages and few opportunities to build a nest egg. Millennials’ early working lives were blighted by the financial crisis and the sluggish growth that followed. In later life, absent major changes in fiscal policy, they seem unlikely to enjoy the same kind of entitlements enjoyed by current retirees.

Under different circumstances, the under-39s might conceivably have been attracted to the entitlement-cutting ideas of the Republican Tea Party (especially if those ideas had been sincere). Instead, we have witnessed a shift to the political left by young voters on nearly every policy issue, economic and cultural alike…

…Young voters are also far more willing than their elders to point to other countries as proof that the U.S. government isn’t measuring up. Gen Z voters are twice as likely to say that “there are other countries better than the US” than that “America is the best country in the world.” As Ocasio-Cortez puts it: “My policies most closely resemble what we see in the UK, in Norway, in Finland, in Sweden.” </p>

Ferguson is nobody's idea of a leftwing radical (quite the opposite), so this is quite notable. The article has absolutely gobsmacking data about the problems that "millennials" face, such as toxic debt, that older generations don't. And the "better than the US" phrase? Anathema to many older Americans; reality to younger ones.
politics  america 
may 2019 by charlesarthur
We can’t assume our water is safe to drink. But we can fix it • National Geographic
Rhea Suh:
<p>As we mark World Water Day on March 22, the disturbing truth is that roughly a quarter of Americans drink from water systems that violate the Safe Drinking Water Act. Violations range from failing to properly test water to allowing dangerous levels of lead or arsenic—and occur everywhere: in rural communities and big cities, in red states and blue ones.

The lead contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, was extreme—and shocking because of the role that race played. However, it was not an isolated case, and we need to consider it a national wake-up call.

Across the country, water systems are old, badly maintained, and in dire need of modernizing—from lead service lines in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Newark, New Jersey, to silt and debris in drinking water after heavy rain in Austin, Texas, to fecal contamination in Penn Township, Pennsylvania. Worse, some are managed by dysfunctional agencies where incompetence and socioeconomic and racial bias may determine whether a community is made sick by its drinking water. The reality is that we can no longer assume that our water is safe to drink.

How unsafe is it? Depending on the source of contamination and the exposure, health effects include neurological problems and developmental disabilities in children (lead), interference with hormones (perchlorates), and increased risk of cancers of the skin, bladder, and kidney (arsenic). The Environmental Protection Agency regulates more than 90 contaminants—but a hundred more that are tracked are so far unregulated.</p>


Inside the Trump administration, the answer's easy: stop regulating the contaminants! Let the market sort it out! What doesn't kill you makes you stronger!
water  america 
march 2019 by charlesarthur
Leaked documents show US government tracking journalists and immigration advocates through a secret database • NBC San Diego
Tom Jones:
<p>Documents obtained by NBC 7 Investigates show the US government created a secret database of activists, journalists, and social media influencers tied to the migrant caravan and in some cases, placed alerts on their passports.

At the end of 2018, roughly 5,000 immigrants from Central America made their way north through Mexico to the United States southern border. The story made international headlines. 

As the migrant caravan reached the San Ysidro Port of Entry in south San Diego County, so did journalists, attorneys, and advocates who were there to work and witness the events unfolding. 

But in the months that followed, journalists who covered the caravan, as well as those who offered assistance to caravan members, said they felt they had become targets of intense inspections and scrutiny by border officials. 

One photojournalist said she was pulled into secondary inspections three times and asked questions about who she saw and photographed in Tijuana shelters. Another photojournalist said she spent 13 hours detained by Mexican authorities when she tried to cross the border into Mexico City. Eventually, she was denied entry into Mexico and sent back to the US. 

These American photojournalists and attorneys said they suspected the US government was monitoring them closely but until now, they couldn’t prove it.</p>

This is what they warned you about: authoritarian governments misusing powers.
Trump  america  surveillance 
march 2019 by charlesarthur
America’s cities are running on software from the ’80s • Bloomberg
Romy Vaghese:
<p>The impetus for change is often public outcry over a crisis, such as the chaotic 2009 crash of a disco-era computer system regulating traffic signals in Montgomery County, Md., or the cyberattacks that brought Atlanta’s government to a standstill last March. And promises to improve are no guarantee of success: Minnesota spent about a decade and $100m to replace its ancient vehicle-licensing and registration software, but the new version arrived with so many glitches in 2017 that Governor Tim Walz has asked for an additional $16m to fix it.

Of course, improvements cost money that constituents don’t always want to pay. “We’re dealing with an irrational public who wants greater and greater service delivery at the same time they want their taxes to be lower,” says Alan Shark, executive director of the Public Technology Institute, an association for municipal tech officials.

In San Francisco the assessor uses a Cobol-based system called AS-400, whose welcome screen reads, “COPYRIGHT IBM CORP., 1980, 2009.” As the city tax rolls jumped 22% over two years, workers were struggling to keep track of the changes on their ancient systems. At one point they fell three years behind. It’s a “lot of manual work” just to perform basic functions, Chu says.

Searches that should seem simple take much longer because of the system’s quirks. If a resident contacts the agency saying her house should have a different assessed value, a worker has to look up the block and identification number that’s technically taxed; there’s no way to filter by address. Also, all street numbers need to have four digits, so 301 Grove St. becomes 0301 Grove St. Another problem: The system doesn’t flag data entry mistakes, such as if a worker misidentified 301 Grove St. as 0031 Grove St. </p>


Got to love the way that the hard-coded systems rule the way people function. (Side note: long time since Cobol appeared here.)
america  cities  software  cobol 
march 2019 by charlesarthur
Huawei frightens Europe's data protectors; America does, too • Bloomberg
Helen Fouquet and Marie Mawad:
<p>The Cloud Act (or the “Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act”) addresses an issue that came up when Microsoft in 2013 refused to provide the FBI access to a server in Ireland in a drug-trafficking investigation, saying it couldn’t be compelled to produce data stored outside the US.

The act’s extraterritoriality spooks the European Union - an issue that’s become more acute as trans-Atlantic relations fray and the bloc sees the US under Trump as an increasingly unreliable ally.

Europe may seek to mitigate the impact of the law by drawing on a provision in the act that allows the US to reach “executive agreements” with countries allowing a mutual exchange of information and data. The European Commission wants the EU to enter into talks with the US, and negotiations may start this spring.

France and other EU countries like The Netherlands and Belgium are pushing for the bloc to present a common front as they struggle to come up with regulations to protect privacy, avert cyber attacks and secure critical networks in the increasingly amorphous world of information in the cloud.

A Dutch lawmaker at the European Parliament, Sophie in ’t Veld, recently expressed frustration at what she called the EU’s “enormous weakness” in the face of the US’s “unlimited data hunger.”

“Because of the Cloud Act, the long arm of the American authorities reaches European citizens, contradicting all EU law,” she said. “Would the Americans accept it if the EU would grant itself extraterritorial jurisdiction on US soil? And would the Commission also propose negotiations with Russia or China, if they would adopt their own Russian or Chinese Cloud Act?"</p>

Got to love the tortuous de-acroynmisation of American legislation (can anyone recall what the "Patriot" bit in the Patriot Act stands for). The US has acted extraterritorially in the UK for as long as I've been writing about computing, which is a very long time. What's changed is the EU's willingness to block it, legally.

(Minor stylistic niggle: Bloomberg writes "U.S." for United States but "EU" for European Union. Both are abbreviations. Why only dots for one? Extraterritorial punctuation? Anyhow, I remove them.)
America  data  legislation  eu 
february 2019 by charlesarthur
How colonization's death toll may have affected Earth's climate • HISTORY
Sarah Pruitt:
<p>As the 15th century drew to a close, some 60 million people lived across the Americas, sustaining themselves with the bounty of the vast lands they inhabited.

But with the arrival of the first European settlers, waves of new diseases, along with warfare, slavery and other brutality would kill off around 56 million people, or around 90 percent of the indigenous population.

Now, scientists from the University College London (United Kingdom) argue in a new study that this “Great Dying” that followed European colonization of the Americas may have actually affected Earth’s climate.

Their version of events, <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277379118307261">published in Quaternary Science Reviews</a>, goes like this: After so many indigenous people died, no one was left to tend many of their fields, and trees and other vegetation quickly reclaimed huge expanses of land previously used for agriculture. As a result, enough carbon dioxide (CO₂) was removed from the atmosphere to actually cool down the planet, contributing to the coldest part of the mysterious period that historians have called the Little Ice Age.</p>


So that's twice that Americans will have been major contributors to climate change - once to cool, once to warm. A bit Thanos, though.
colonisation  america  climatechange 
january 2019 by charlesarthur
TikTok has a Nazi problem • Motherboard
Joseph Cox:
<p>Users on mega popular <a href="https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/j5zbmx/tiktok-the-app-super-popular-with-kids-has-a-nudes-problem">children’s lip-synching app TikTok</a> are sharing calls for violence against people of colour and Jews, as well as creating and sharing neo-Nazi propaganda, Motherboard has found.

Some accounts verbatim read “kill all n*****,” “all jews must die,” and “killn******.” (The words are uncensored on the app, which is a sort of melding of Vine and Instagram that allows users to create short videos synced to music.)

Motherboard found the content on the Chinese-made app, which is used by hundreds of millions people, many including teenagers and children in the United States, within minutes of starting a basic search.

“We’ve never talked to Tik Tok, but clearly we need to,” Heidi Beirich, director of the intelligence project at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), told Motherboard in an email. “They need the site to be cleaned up—and now.”</p>


I'd love to know how well this problem (and the previous problem, in the linked article in the body, of nudes) correlates with growth in numbers of American users.
america  tiktok  users  nazi 
december 2018 by charlesarthur
Why ketchup in Mexico tastes so good • American Institute for Economic Research
Jeffrey Tucker:
<p>The US has a mighty import quota for sugar that limits imports to keep the price as high as possible for American consumers. “Imports of sugar into the United States are governed by tariff-rate quotas (TRQs), which allow a certain quantity of sugar to enter the country under a low tariff,” says the USDA. “The USDA establishes the annual quota volumes for each federal fiscal year (beginning October 1) and the U.S. Trade Representative allocates the TRQs among countries.”

As a result, US consumers and producers pay approximately <a href="https://fee.org/articles/why-americans-pay-triple-the-world-price-for-sugar/">three times the world price of sugar</a>. This discourages its use relative to substitutes. Yes, this is happening to you and me every day, and these price signals have dramatically affected our diets. This is because the decision of producers to use corn syrup instead of sugar in a highly price competitive market makes economic sense.

Try to go without corn syrup for a few days. It’s not easy. It’s true, for example, that Heinz offers a product called Simply Heinz that uses pure sugar, not high-fructose corn syrup. But that product costs nearly $1 more than the standard bottle of ketchup. You are at the grocery aisle. You are price conscious. One bottle costs a dollar less than the other, and the taste difference between the two seems barely discernible.

Only high-end, fussy, conscious consumers go for the high-end product. You can see why people desire to pay less. Prices matter. Central planning has caused this, and massive numbers of American health problems along with it.</p>


From February, but nothing's changed. The sugar tariff was first imposed in 1816 to protect plantations (with slaves) in Louisiana. Still going strong 200 years later.
sugar  america  tariffs 
december 2018 by charlesarthur
How Russian trolls used meme warfare to divide America • WIRED
<p>Conversations around the [Russian] Internet Research Agency [IRA] operations traditionally have focused on Facebook and Twitter, but like any hip millennial, the IRA was actually most obsessive about Instagram. “Instagram was perhaps the most effective platform for the Internet Research Agency,” the New Knowledge researchers write. All in, the troll accounts received 187 million engagements on Instagram, and about 40 percent of the accounts they created had at least 10,000 followers.

That isn’t to say, however, that the trolls neglected Twitter. There, the IRA deployed 3,841 accounts, including several personas that “regularly played hashtag games.” That approach paid off; 1.4 million people engaged with the tweets, leading to nearly 73 million engagements. Most of this work was focused on news, while on Facebook and Instagram, the Russians prioritized “deeper relationships,” according to the researchers. On Facebook, the IRA notched a total of 3.3 million page followers, who engaged with their politically divisive content 76.5 million times. Russia’s most popular pages targeted the right wing and the black community. The trolls also knew their audiences; they deployed Pepe memes at pages intended for right-leaning millennials, but kept them away from posts directed at older conservative Facebook users. Not every attempt was a hit; while 33 of the 81 IRA Facebook pages had over 1,000 followers, dozens had none at all.

That the IRA trolls aimed to pit Americans against each other with divisive memes is now well known. But this latest report reveals just how bizarre some of the IRA’s outreach got. To collect personally identifying information about targets, and perhaps use it to create custom and Lookalike audiences on Facebook, the IRA’s Instagram pages sold all kinds of merchandise. That includes LGBT sex toys and “many variants of triptych and 5-panel artwork featuring traditionally conservative, patriotic themes.”</p>


You might think America has done pretty well at dividing itself over the past 20 years. And you'd be right. The <a href="https://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/93/2018/12/IRA-Report-2018.pdf">report</a> is highly recommended.
america  division  russia 
december 2018 by charlesarthur
The land that failed to fail • NY Times
<p>China’s Communist leaders have defied expectations again and again. They embraced capitalism even as they continued to call themselves Marxists. They used repression to maintain power but without stifling entrepreneurship or innovation. Surrounded by foes and rivals, they avoided war, with one brief exception, even as they fanned nationalist sentiment at home. And they presided over 40 years of uninterrupted growth, often with unorthodox policies the textbooks said would fail.

In late September, the People’s Republic of China marked a milestone, surpassing the Soviet Union in longevity. Days later, it celebrated a record 69 years of Communist rule. And China may be just hitting its stride — a new superpower with an economy on track to become not just the world’s largest but, quite soon, the largest by a wide margin.

The world thought it could change China, and in many ways it has. But China’s success has been so spectacular that it has just as often changed the world — and the American understanding of how the world works.

There is no simple explanation for how China’s leaders pulled this off. There was foresight and luck, skill and violent resolve, but perhaps most important was the fear — a sense of crisis among Mao’s successors that they never shook, and that intensified after the Tiananmen Square massacre and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Even as they put the disasters of Mao’s rule behind them, China’s Communists studied and obsessed over the fate of their old ideological allies in Moscow, determined to learn from their mistakes. They drew two lessons: The party needed to embrace “reform” to survive — but “reform” must never include democratization.

China has veered between these competing impulses ever since, between opening up and clamping down, between experimenting with change and resisting it, always pulling back before going too far in either direction for fear of running aground.

Many people said that the party would fail, that this tension between openness and repression would be too much for a nation as big as China to sustain. But it may be precisely why China soared.

Whether it can continue to do so with the US trying to stop it is another question entirely.</p>

A quietly important article: that China's authoritarian rule has lasted longer than the USSR is a surprising but telling fact.
China  america  economy 
november 2018 by charlesarthur
American executives are becoming China sceptics • Financial Times
Jamil Anderlini:
<p>Faced with worsening barriers to entry and pressure to hand over their prized technology in exchange for market access, western companies operating in China have become Mr Trump’s biggest cheerleaders in the trade war.

A speech last week in Singapore by former Goldman Sachs chief executive and the US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson gives a sense of just how few American friends China has left.

“The American business community has turned from advocate to sceptic and even opponent of past US policies toward China,” Mr Paulson said. “How can it be that those who know China best . . . and have advocated for productive relations in the past, are among those now arguing for confrontation?”

Mr Paulson used to be one of the most ardent “old friends of China” — a group that includes people such as Henry Kissinger and Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman who see themselves as a bridge between Beijing and Washington. His uncharacteristically harsh words should serve as a wake-up call for Mr Xi.

Some people who know Mr Paulson believe his criticism was actually encouraged by senior members of Mr Xi’s own administration, who feel the Chinese president has over-reached but are too scared to say it to his face.

These remnants of the Communist party’s liberal, reform-minded faction are concerned that China’s teetering economy will not be able to withstand a full-blown trade war.

For all the hype surrounding companies like Alibaba and Tencent, China remains predominantly a low-margin, mass production economy that relies on imports for most high-tech components. Despite decades of effort and billions of dollars invested in developing homegrown semi-conductors, China still imports more than 95% of the high-end chips used in computers and servers. As a result, the world’s biggest energy importer spends more on buying foreign-made microchips than it does on imports of crude oil.</p>
china  america  economy  tariffs 
november 2018 by charlesarthur
The US is in a state of perpetual minority rule • The Washington Post
Daniel Markovits and Ian Ayres (who teach law, economics and politics at Yale Law School) on the inbuilt bias of the state-oriented, first-past-the-post system in the US:
<p>The electoral college system extends these biases into presidential elections. Donald Trump himself also lost the popular vote — by 2 percentage points, or nearly 3 million votes — in 2016. This difference represents the greatest popular-vote loss suffered by any winning president in history.

President Trump and the Republican senators have used their offices to remake the judiciary in their own image. Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh entrench a reliable conservative majority at the Supreme Court, in spite of being nominated by a popular-vote-losing president and confirmed by senators who, our research shows, collectively won (in each case) about 24 million fewer votes than the senators who voted against the nominations.

All in all, then, a Democratic Party that has dominated the popular vote across all federal offices enjoys only a narrow elective majority in one half of one branch of the federal government. And Trump and Republican senators are using their control of the rest of the government to promote policies that will extend and entrench the Republican skew in elections. The Supreme Court will likely soon hear a series of cases in election law that review the very practices that underwrite Republican power.

Finally, these patterns follow a dark demographic logic. White men — roughly one-quarter of the total US population — constitute Trumpism’s core constituency. Exit polls showed they favoured Trump over Hillary Clinton by 62% to 31% and favoured Republicans over Democrats in this year’s midterms by 60% to 39%. No other major demographic group supports the Trump agenda with anything approaching this enthusiasm. We’ve estimated that if white men voted like the rest of America, Democrats would have won the 2016 presidential election by 19% and would, following the midterms, control a majority of the Senate with at least 20 more seats.</p>


The urban-rural divide in the US is going to create increasing rifts unless the US revises its representation system. That Wyoming, with fewer than 600,000 inhabitants, sends as many senators as California, with 37m, is crazy. Reform might even allow a third party to emerge and influence change.
america  voting 
november 2018 by charlesarthur
Another use for AI: finding millions of unregistered voters • The New York Times
Steve Lohr:
<p>For the last four years, Mr. Jonas has used his software for a multistate project known as Electronic Registration Information Center that identifies eligible voters and cleans up voter rolls. Since its founding in 2012, the nonprofit center has identified 26 million people who are eligible but unregistered to vote, as well as 10 million registered voters who have moved, appear on more than one list or have died.

“I have no doubt that more people are voting as a result of ERIC,” said John Lindback, a former senior election administrator in Oregon and Alaska who was the center’s first executive director.
Voter rolls, like nearly every aspect of elections, are a politically charged issue. ERIC, brought together by the Pew Charitable Trusts, is meant to play it down the middle. It was started largely with professional election administrators, from both red and blue states.

But the election officials recognized that their headaches often boiled down to a data-handling challenge. Then Mr. Jonas added his technology, which has been developed and refined for decades. It is artificial intelligence software fine-tuned for spotting and resolving identities, whether people or things.

“Every time you get two pieces of junk mail from the same place, that’s an entity resolution problem,” Mr. Jonas said. “They’re missed, but entity resolution problems are everywhere.”

Shortly after the election administrators tapped him, Mr. Jonas sketched out how his technology might be applied to their challenges. And they needed to take a very different path than another data-matching initiative, the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck System, which was already underway.

Crosscheck was begun in 2005, led by Ron Thornburgh, then the Republican secretary of state in Kansas, and later championed by Kris Kobach, the Republican secretary of state who is running for governor of Kansas.</p>


I'm sure this will shock you, but Crosscheck produced lots of false positives which disenfranchised people wrongly, whereas ERIC is intended to both improve voter access and clean voter rolls so they're more accurate.
voting  america 
november 2018 by charlesarthur
I was reported to police as an agitated black male — for simply walking to work • Medium
Reginald Andrade:
<p>on September 14, campus police were waiting for me when I arrived at the reception desk at Whitmore. I had no idea why but I knew it couldn’t be good. My heart started pounding.

Two university detectives sat me down me in an office and closed the door. Bewildered, I asked what was happening. They refused to answer, as they peppered me with questions.
“What time did you wake up?” “What were you doing at the campus recreation center?” “Did you come into the building agitated?” I felt confused, powerless, and scared, but made sure to maintain my composure. I remembered that even unarmed Black people disproportionately get killed during police encounters, and it was incumbent on me as an innocent Black man to show that I wasn’t a threat. It wasn’t until the end of their interrogation that they revealed why I was being questioned.

Someone had called the university’s anonymous tip line, reporting that they had seen an “agitated Black male” who was carrying a “a heavy backpack that is almost hitting the ground” as he approached the Whitmore Administration Building. I — the “agitated Black male” — apparently posed such a threat that police put the entire building on lockdown for half an hour.

I have no idea how the caller come to the conclusion that I was “agitated,” considering they hadn’t interacted with me. I do know that Black people are often stereotyped as angry, armed, or dangerous.

I’ve had to answer to the police before for being a Black man at UMass Amherst.</p>

Sometimes America's problems feel intractable. Another story going around on Thursday: "Georgia woman calls police on black man babysitting white kids: Corey Lewis, who runs a youth mentoring program, was followed by a white woman from a Walmart to his mother's home."
Race  america 
october 2018 by charlesarthur
Russian trolls tweeted disinformation long before US election • WSJ
Rob Barry:
<p>Alice Norton posted an emergency message on a cooking-website forum on Thanksgiving 2015: Her entire family had severe food poisoning after buying a turkey from Walmart.

“My son Robert got in the hospital and he’s still there,” wrote Ms. Norton, who had described herself as a 31-year-old New York City mother of two. “I don’t know what to do!”

Within hours, Twitter users repeated the claim thousands of times, and a news story was published saying 200 people were in critical condition after eating tainted turkey.

The catch? No outbreak of food poisoning matching this description occurred, according to New York City health officials. A Walmart Inc. spokesman said the company had spotted the posts but determined they were a hoax and didn’t investigate their origin further.

In fact, many of the claims came from accounts linked to a pro-Kremlin propaganda agency charged by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office last week for meddling in U.S. politics. Security experts now believe the early posts, and others like them, may have been practice for a bigger target: the 2016 U.S. election.

While it is impossible to be sure what was in the minds of Russians tweeting false stories in 2014 and 2015—which also included tales of contaminated water, terrorist attacks and a chemical-plant explosion—these experts say it is as if the Russians were testing to see how much they could get Americans to believe.</p>


Turns out that the latter is "really quite a lot". America's a big country, and a lot can happen. And a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on, as people say.
america  russia  information  warfare  socialwarming 
october 2018 by charlesarthur
Inside the private Justice Department meeting that could lead to new investigations of Facebook, Google and other tech giants • The Washington Post
Brian Fung and Tony Romm:
<p>A meeting of the country’s top federal and state law enforcement officials on Tuesday could presage sweeping new investigations of Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and their tech industry peers, stemming from lingering frustrations that these companies are too big, fail to safeguard users' private data and don’t cooperate with legal demands.

The gathering at the Justice Department had been designed to focus on social media platforms and the ways in which they moderate content online, following complaints from President Trump and other top Republicans that Silicon Valley companies deliberately seek to silence conservative users and views online.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions opened the meeting by raising questions of possible ideological bias among the tech companies and sought to bring the conversation back to that topic at least twice more, according to D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine.

But the discussion proved far more wide-ranging, as attorneys general from eight states and the District — and officials from five others — steered the conversation toward the privacy practices of Silicon Valley. Those in the meeting did not zero in on specific business tactics, but they did cover such issues as how companies collect user data and what they do with it once the information is in their hands.

“We were unanimous. Our focus is going to be on antitrust and privacy. That’s where our laws are,” Jim Hood, Mississippi’s attorney general, said in an interview.</p>


So basically they told Sessions to recall the US's First Amendment, and moved on to topics not covered by that legal topic. I do like the idea of Sessions discovering his, er, session being hijacked and made to talk about serious issues.
antitrust  tech  america 
september 2018 by charlesarthur
Why is American mass transit so bad? It's a long story • CityLab
Jonathan English:
<p>One hundred years ago, the United States had a public transportation system that was the envy of the world. Today, outside a few major urban centers, it is barely on life support. Even in New York City, subway ridership is well below its 1946 peak. Annual per capita transit trips in the US plummeted from 115.8 in 1950 to 36.1 in 1970, where they have roughly remained since, even as population has grown.

This has not happened in much of the rest of the world. While a decline in transit use in the face of fierce competition from the private automobile throughout the 20th century was inevitable, near-total collapse was not. At the turn of the 20th century, when transit companies’ only competition were the legs of a person or a horse, they worked reasonably well, even if they faced challenges. Once cars arrived, nearly every US transit agency slashed service to cut costs, instead of improving service to stay competitive. This drove even more riders away, producing a vicious cycle that led to the point where today, few Americans with a viable alternative ride buses or trains.

Now, when the federal government steps in to provide funding, it is limited to big capital projects. (Under the Trump administration, even those funds are in question.) Operations—the actual running of buses and trains frequently enough to appeal to people with an alternative—are perpetually starved for cash. Even transit advocates have internalized the idea that transit cannot be successful outside the highest-density urban centers.

And it very rarely is.</p>


Fascinating in-depth look at the topic, and one of an upcoming series. The core problem is that cars were favoured as the suburbs sprawled, and the US has plenty of space; it also doesn't have old cities as Europe does.
transit  america 
september 2018 by charlesarthur
What does knee surgery cost in the US? Few know, and that’s a problem • WSJ
Melanie Evans:
<p>For nearly a decade, Gundersen Health System’s hospital in La Crosse, Wisconsin, boosted the price of knee-replacement surgery an average of 3% a year. By 2016, the average list price was more than $50,000, including the surgeon and anesthesiologist.

Yet even as administrators raised the price, they had no real idea what it cost to perform the surgery—the most common for hospitals in the U.S. outside of those related to childbirth. They set a price using a combination of educated guesswork and a canny assessment of market opportunity.

Prompted by rumblings from Medicare and private insurers over potential changes to payments, Gundersen decided to nail down the numbers. During an 18-month review, an efficiency expert trailed doctors and nurses to record every minute of activity and note instruments, resources and medicines used. The hospital tallied the time nurses spent wheeling around VCR carts, a mismatch of available postsurgery beds, unnecessarily costly bone cement and delays dispatching physical therapists to get patients moving.

The actual cost? $10,550 at most, including the physicians. The list price was five times that amount.

Competitive forces are out of whack in health care. Hospitals are often ignorant about their actual costs. Instead, they often increase prices to meet profit targets. Patients, especially those with insurance, often don’t know the price of a procedure and rarely shop around.

This dynamic is a driving force in the explosion in health-care spending in the U.S., which will soon reach close to 20% of GDP. Americans spend more per capita on health care than any other developed nation, even though they aren’t buying more health care overall. The rise in hospital prices has outpaced economywide inflation for decades. “When price isn’t tightly linked to cost, that is a sign that the market isn’t competitive,” said Harvard economist Leemore Dafny.</p>


Heading towards 20% of GDP. Astonishing. In the UK, where the National Health Service means the government is a monopsony for health purchasing, <a href="https://www.ifs.org.uk/uploads/publications/bns/BN201.pdf">spending is just under 10% of GDP</a>, and maternal mortality is lower and life expectancy is longer.

Articles like this appearing in the WSJ - the paragon of right-wing thinking - might actually get some of them to think, though.
america  health  spending 
august 2018 by charlesarthur
14 million Americans are drinking carcinogen-polluted tap water • Fast Company
Melissa Locker:
<p>The drinking water of some 14 million Americans is contaminated with a cancer-causing industrial solvent called Trichloroethylene, or TCE, according to a new EWG analysis of tests from public utilities nationwide. EWG’s <a href="https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/contaminant.php?contamcode=2984">Tap Water Database</a>, which aggregates test results from utilities nationwide, shows that in about half of the systems it monitors, average annual levels of TCE were above what some health authorities say is safe for infants and developing fetuses.

More than 400 of the government’s Superfund sites have TCE contamination that can spread into groundwater and threaten drinking water supplies. Drinking TCE-contaminated water has been linked to birth defects, hormone disruption, increased risk of cancer, and more. The EPA’s legal limit for TCE in drinking water is 5 parts per billion. That limit was set back in 1987, and researchers believe TCE could be harmful at much lower levels.

TCE pollution is not new. In fact, in 1995, it was made famous thanks to Jonathan Harr’s nonfiction best-seller A Civil Action, which not only won the National Book Award, but also got John Travolta to star in the film version of it. That book (and film) followed a 1980s case of TCE pollution in Massachusetts that may have caused leukemia in children exposed to the toxic chemical in their drinking supply. Even with the case, and Travolta’s star power, TCE pollution hasn’t been a sexy hot-button issue for years. That could—and should—all change.</p>


Wonderful!
america  tapwater 
july 2018 by charlesarthur
Congress to leave Trump’s deal with China’s ZTE untouched • Bloomberg
Jenny Leonard and Erik Wasson:
<p>Negotiators from the Senate and House of Representatives late Thursday agreed to abandon efforts to reinstate harsher sanctions against the Chinese telecommunications-equipment maker as part of the defense policy bill, the people said. Both chambers are expected to vote on the National Defense Authorization Act next week.

Draft language advanced in the House earlier this year focused on a procurement ban for ZTE products, whereas the Senate approved language that would reinstate the sales ban for US companies to sell to ZTE. The White House strongly opposed any efforts by Congress to block its deal for ZTE to resume business.

The Trump administration in April announced a seven-year ban on US exports to ZTE after it said the company violated sanctions agreements by selling American technology to Iran and North Korea. The move forced ZTE to announce it was shutting down.

Trump reversed course in May, saying he was reconsidering penalties on ZTE as a personal favor to Chinese President Xi Jinping. Later that month, his administration announced it would allow the company to stay in business after paying a new fine, changing its management and providing “high-level security guarantees.”

Following through on the promise, the Commerce Department last week lifted a ban on American firms selling products to ZTE after the company paid the final tranche of a $1.4bn penalty by placing $400m in escrow at a US bank. Congresspeople from both parties had blasted the Trump administration for helping ZTE.</p>


This is the sort of revival to make Lazarus whistle in admiration.
zte  china  america  trump 
july 2018 by charlesarthur
How to be a better beggar for your health care • Medium
Darryl Ohrt:
<p>this is exactly how plenty of cancer patients are funding their care.

It’s true. The health care situation in our country is so bad that people just like me have resorted to begging on the streets to fund their care. Only the streets are now on the internet.

A recent article in Cure, “<a href="http://www.curetoday.com/publications/cure/2017/winter-2017/crowdfunding-for-cancer-care-a-virtual-safety-net">A Virtual Safety Net</a>” details how to craft a better crowdsourcing campaign to fund your cancer health care, making this all too obvious that our health care industry accepts this as the new norm.

Changing the word “beg” to “ask” and putting a pretty “donate” button on it shouldn’t make this an acceptable event in our society. And we can’t blame the patients. I’ve received care at cancer centers all over our country, and met people just like your uncle, your mom, and your brother who can no longer afford the care they need. They’ve exhausted their savings. Cashed out their retirement. Reverse mortgaged their home. All in an effort to stay alive. Put in this situation, who wouldn’t crowdsource for help?</p>


A popular joke on Twitter: "It's 2060. The US has universal healthcare, called GoFundMe."
healthcare  america 
july 2018 by charlesarthur
Why didn’t America become part of the modern world? • Eudaimonia
Umair Haque argues that while Europe realised, after the Second World War, that poverty is a bad thing and so set about social equity schemes, the US didn't - "America was building drinking fountains for 'colored people'" - and insisted that poverty is a teacher:
<p>So what was the inevitable result of a nation which didn’t learn history’s greatest lesson, which thought poverty was good for people? Unsurprisingly, it was….poverty. The old kind: 40 million Americans live in poverty, while 50 million Mexicans do. Surprised. And a new kind, too. The middle class imploded, and Americans began living lives right perched right at the edge of destruction. Less then $500 in emergency savings, having to choose between healthcare and educating their kids, a without retirement, stability, security, or safety of any kind. America never joined the modern world in understanding that poverty leads societies to ruin — and so it quickly became the rich world’s first poor country.

What happened next? Well, exactly what history suggested would. That imploding middle class, living lives of immense precarity, sought safety in the arms of religion, superstition, and myths, at first. And then in the arms of extremism. And finally, in the arms of a demagogue, leading a nationalist, proto-fascist movement. It was exactly what happened in the 1930s — and it still is.
So. What has anyone learned? Funnily, sadly, as far as I can see, not much. America never joined the modern world — that is why its people live such uniquely wretched lives, paying thousands for ambulance rides, which even people in Lahore or Lagos don’t. But the consequences weren’t just poverty. They were what poverty produces — nationalism, authoritarianism, fascism, social collapse and implosion, as people, enraged, lost trust in society to be able to protect and shelter them. But no one has learned that lesson. Not America’s intellectuals, certainly. Not its politicians, leaders, thinkers. Not its people, either, unfortunately.

So here America is. Modernity’s first failed state. The rich nation which never cared to join the modern world, too busy believing that poverty would lead to virtue, not ruin. Now life is a perpetual, crushing, bruising battle, in which the stakes are life or death — and so people take out their bitter despair and rage by putting infants on trial.</p>
america  poverty  life 
july 2018 by charlesarthur
The public, the political system and American democracy • Pew Research Center
This dates from April, but it's still relevant:
<p>Americans don’t spare themselves from criticism. In addressing the shortcomings of the political system, Americans do not spare themselves from criticism: Just 39% say “voters are knowledgeable about candidates and issues” describes the country very or somewhat well. In addition, a 56% majority say they have little or no confidence in the political wisdom of the American people. However, that is less negative than in early 2016, when 64% had little or no confidence. Since the presidential election, Republicans have become more confident in people’s political wisdom.

<img src="http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2018/04/25143158/Overview_4.png" width="100%" />

Cynicism about money and politics: most Americans think that those who donate a lot of money to elected officials have more political influence than others. An overwhelming majority (77%) supports limits on the amount of money individuals and organizations can spend on political campaigns and issues. And nearly two-thirds of Americans (65%) say new laws could be effective in reducing the role of money in politics.</p>
america  democracy 
june 2018 by charlesarthur
Why we don’t read, revisited • The New Yorker
Caleb Crain:
<p>It’s possible that a compositional effect explains the decline of reading in America. Maybe, for example, as more women have entered the workforce, their full-time employment has left them with less leisure to read. It’s easy to check such a hypothesis by <a href="https://vulcan.condenastdigital.com/tny-services/photos/5b214e5640328426ed9a874d/master/pass/ReadingbyGender.png">parsing the data from the American Time Use Survey according to gender</a>. Women read more than men, it turns out, but time spent reading has declined steadily for both genders. If you break down the data <a href="https://vulcan.condenastdigital.com/tny-services/photos/5b214f22c89f6025427423de/master/pass/readingbyemploymentstatus.png">according to employment status</a>, meanwhile, you see that the unemployed do read more, but they, part-timers, and full-timers all read steadily less as the decade went forward. The same applies when you break down the data by <a href="https://vulcan.condenastdigital.com/tny-services/photos/5b215aa0dc613731dba2ce43/master/pass/readingbyrace.png">race and ethnicity</a> or by age; you see differences in the amount of reading, but a decline is taking place in almost every subgroup.

A less explored cause might be the recession. America’s middle class is shrinking, and the proportion of Americans in the labor force is lower than it has been since the nineteen-seventies. Maybe people read less when they have less money? From <a href="https://vulcan.condenastdigital.com/tny-services/photos/5b215b032acbf821b1b753f2/master/pass/readingbyincomequartile.png">a breakdown of reading by income quartile</a>, it turns out that the rich read more—but they read less and less every year. Americans in the lowest income quartile did manage to read more in 2016 than they did in 2003—a rare trend—but that’s probably a dead-cat bounce; the 2003 number was so low that it was as likely to improve as not. All these factors are probably making <em>some</em> contribution to a compositional effect. But nothing, to my eye, looks substantial enough to explain away the over-all trend: Americans are reading less.</p>


I wonder if the ONS or similar collects data as granular as the US does about reading time; it has to be done on an hour-by-hour basis to be even vaguely reliable.
reading  america  books 
june 2018 by charlesarthur
American collapse isn’t just economic and political — it’s moral and ethical, too • Medium
Umair Haque on how Kim Kardashian gets more attention than children being put in camps: what does this say about American morality
<p>First, there’s the Kantian idea of a universal law of treating others as you wish to be treated, Kant’s “kingdom of ends.” It’s blindingly obvious to see that American don’t treat one another that way — they want everything for themselves, but deny the most meager of basics to their neighbours. Hence, the American Dream became something like a McMansion, a fleet of SUVs, and a black Amex card — and damn universal healthcare, education, media, finance. So Americans immediately fail the test of Kantian ethics — so-called “deontological” ethics, which simply mean “rules for what is right.” There is no rule for what is right in America — and that has profound consequences, which we will soon come to.

Second is the idea of utilitarian ethics, acting for the so-called greater good. But here again, Americans fail at the slightest observation. They will happily invest in more things that give them zero added utility, but genuinely make them miserable, like that Amazon gadget that spies on you, hours on Facebook which leave them lonelier, meaner, dumber, more resentful, envious, and unhappy — but they won’t spend a collective dime for the sake of the greater good. It’s shatteringly obvious that if Americans were the slightest bit concerned with the greater good, like good utilitarians, they’d spend time, energy, money on, say healthcare for everyone — but that hasn’t happenedin our adult lifetimes. So Americans fail this moral test, too.

Now, most moral systems fall somewhere between these two poles, of utilitarian (or consequentialist) ethics, and Kantian (or deontological) ethics... Nowhere within the spectrum of morality as we know it can we place the behaviour of Americans.</p>

Somewhat damning, but the moral paralysis in the US (I think it’s that rather than indifference) is quite shocking. Compare the fury in the UK over Windrush citizens.
America  morality 
june 2018 by charlesarthur
Overall Q1 US smartphone sales dip 11% YoY, Apple grows a record 16% YoY • Counterpoint Research
<p>Research Director Jeff Fieldhack said, “Dips in sales coming off a holiday period are to be expected, however there are several other factors that make this the weakest Q1 in recent years. For one, postpaid device promotions were not as enticing in the first quarter—most requiring a new line.  In addition, prepaid did not receive its usual February and Q1 bump as prepaid service promos cooled. The ramp-down of government subsidized ‘Lifeline’ programs have cut into prepaid device volumes. BYOD and refurbished devices also continue to impact new device sales.”

<strong>Exhibit 1: Monthly market pulse – OEM & market sales growth (YoY %) Trends</strong><br /><img src="https://www.counterpointresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/US-MArket-Growth-Analysis.png" width="100%" /><br />

• Apple growth percentage is declining during launch periods. However, it has gained overall US market share because of its increasing installed base and B2B and prepaid channel improvements<br />• Samsung growth curve is slipping. There is increased difficulty maintaining momentum through product lifecycles<br />• During periods of prepaid [PAYG] weakness, ‘others’ performance declines. "Others" saw a drastic dip during the first quarter.<br />• The overall US market growth is on a downward slope outside of Apple launch periods.</p>


Down to 38.7m in the first quarter; the first time it has been below 40m for three years. The peak has passed.
smartphone  us  america 
may 2018 by charlesarthur
The gun-law loophole that entices tycoons and criminals to play cop • Bloomberg Businessweek
Zachary Mider, with an amazing piece about a loophole that lets people sign up as police for tiny places - and then carry concealed weapons all around the US:
<p>In Oakley, a village of about 300, the police department charged $1,200 to become a cop. It tried to keep the names of some 150 volunteers confidential by saying they could be targeted by Islamic State jihadis. When a list of applicants became public a few years ago, it included out-of-town lawyers and businessmen, a pro football player and the musician Kid Rock.

Action-movie star Steven Seagal got a badge from Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West. So did at least five people linked to a civilian Navy unit in Virginia that became the focus of an unrelated corruption investigation, the Washington Post reported. According to 2016 testimony in the case, members of the Navy unit helped direct $14,000 worth of radio equipment to the sheriff’s office and used their shields to travel the country armed, including on commercial airlines. 

Neither West nor the former Oakley police chief responded to requests for comment.

To qualify for the concealed-carry perk, known as H.R. 218 after the House version of the bill, officers must be authorized to make arrests and carry a gun on duty. An unarmed dispatcher or records clerk doesn’t meet that standard. But in some states, volunteers can carry weapons and make arrests without completing the rigorous certification process required of most full-time cops. In these states, police chiefs and sheriffs can award the privileges to pretty much anyone they want.

That’s partly why nobody knows how big the badge market is. There’s little state or federal oversight, and some localities keep their volunteer rosters secret. 

“This is widespread and widely abused,” said David LaMontaine, a retired deputy sheriff and union official who pushed for state oversight of volunteers in Michigan. Now federal lawmakers, he said, should “close that loophole.”

The risks of policing with volunteers became national news in 2015, when a 73-year-old reservist and donor to the Tulsa, Oklahoma, sheriff’s office accidentally shot and killed an unarmed suspect during an arrest. The reservist was convicted of manslaughter, and the sheriff later pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor for covering up an internal report alleging preferential treatment for the donor.

Lake Arthur points to a different problem: men with badges who aren’t doing much police work at all.</p>

If you have a system, it will be abused. If the system lets you carry deadly weapons, its abuse will kill people.
Guns  america 
may 2018 by charlesarthur
The nine minutes that almost changed America • Buzzfeed
Kate Nocera and Lissandra Villa:
<p>At around 7:06 a.m., a man in a blue T-shirt approached the field and fired 62 7.62x39mm rounds through a lawfully purchased Century International Arms SKS-style semiautomatic assault rifle. The shooting was, Alexandria’s elected prosecutor concluded, “an act of terrorism” that was “fueled by rage against Republican legislators.” The day was one in a continuum of violent, surreal days over the past year, from mass shootings to Charlottesville.

You may love them, or you may disagree with almost everything they stand for, but that morning, the roughly two dozen people on that field just tried to stay alive. Those nine minutes were a near miss of modern American history, between the dark aftermath of a deadly, mass political assassination and our own reality, in which most people don’t think very often about June 14, 2017, the difference between everything changing and almost nothing changing at all.</p>


It's a remarkable retelling of the attack on the US congressional baseball team practice. They were very lucky in many ways, notably that there was a senior member there who had a security detail - who then engaged the shooter.

It's notable for its detail about the physical and medical effects of being shot (it's not like in the films), and the confusion of trying to work out where a shooter is. Also for this:
<p>Some of the players don’t want to talk about the man who opened fire on them, or even think he should be discussed. None say the shooting changed what they thought about gun control, except that if Washington had different gun laws and they could carry weapons, maybe some of them would have had guns in their cars.

But many lawmakers are mad, or frustrated, or saddened, at how quickly the story disappeared from the headlines given that the shooter, James T. Hodgkinson, targeted Republicans. The FBI concluded the shooting wasn’t politically motivated — suicide by cop, they told members after an investigation.</p>


So they're angry not about his ability to get a gun and almost kill them, but because they didn't stay in the headlines for longer? Talk about taking home the wrong lesson.
america  guns  politics 
may 2018 by charlesarthur
The Presidency: the hardest job in the world • The Atlantic
John Dickerson interviewed multiple people who have worked in the White House to wonder about how the job has arguably become too big:
<p>Eisenhower sorted priorities through a four-quadrant decision matrix that is still a staple of time-management books. It was based on his maxim “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.”

Sage advice, but antique for any president trying to manage the office after the attacks of September 11, 2001. The Cold War presidents monitored slow-moving events that had flashes of urgency. Now the stakes are just as high, but the threats are more numerous and fast-moving…

…Presidents now start their day with the President’s Daily Brief, an intelligence assessment of the threats facing America. How the PDB is delivered changes with each president. Early in his term, Trump reportedly requested a verbal digest of the brief. During the Obama years, the PDB was wrapped in a stiff leather binder and looked like the guest book at a country club. Inside was a grim iPad containing all the possible ways the president could fail at his most essential role. Satellite photos tracked terrorists’ movements, and pictures of failed laptop bombs demonstrated the pace of awful innovation. At the end of the briefing with intelligence officials, a president might be asked whether a specific person should be killed, or whether some mother’s son should be sent on a secret raid from which he might not return.

John F. Kennedy requested that his intelligence briefing be small enough to fit in his pocket. Since 2005, the PDB has been produced by an entirely new entity in the executive branch, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which itself includes several intelligence agencies founded since Kennedy’s era, among them the vast Department of Homeland Security.

Monitoring even small threats can take up an entire day. “My definition of a good day was when more than half of the things on my schedule were things I planned versus things that were forced on me,” says Jeh Johnson, who served Obama as homeland-security secretary. An acute example: In June 2016, Johnson planned to travel to China to discuss the long-term threat from cyberattacks. Hours before takeoff, he was forced to cancel the trip so he could monitor developments after the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

“The urgent should not crowd out the important,” says Lisa Monaco, Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser. “But sometimes you don’t get to the important. Your day is spent just trying to prioritize the urgent. Which urgent first?”</p>
politics  america  presidency 
april 2018 by charlesarthur
Obamacare enrollment 2018: the law is actually doing fine under Trump • Vox
Dylan Scott:
<p>Don’t be mistaken: The Trump administration didn’t help matters. Working overtime to repeal the law, telling the American people that the ACA is dead and gone, slashing advertising by 90% and enrollment support by 40%, ending key payments to insurers while Congress refused to appropriate them and take the issue off the table — the Republican Party and Trump did everything they could throughout 2017 to undermine Obamacare.

But we learned that the ACA is pretty resilient. The Trump administration released a report on Tuesday saying that 11.8 million Americans enrolled in health coverage for 2018 through the law’s insurance marketplaces, down just a tick from the 12.2 million sign-ups in 2017.

Sure, Obamacare’s marketplaces are not exactly, on the whole, a robust and competitive market. For millions of people, insurance is still unaffordable. But for millions of others, the law is providing them with meaningful financial protections against medical bankruptcy.

“At this point, the marketplaces are really functioning more broadly in their role as an extension of the public safety net than in their role as a competitive market,” John Graves, a health policy professor at Vanderbilt University, told me.</p>


America is still stumbling towards the point where it's a sensible civic society. Obamacare, aka the ACA, is one of the things that suggests it's getting there.
health  america 
april 2018 by charlesarthur
The five arguments you need to know about the gun control debate • Medium
StrategyCamp with five arguments on why the US needs gun control; this is part of No.4 (countering the "it's just people with mental health problems who are to blame"):
<p>the majority of mass-shootings involve a male with a history of domestic violence. And frequently, their female counterparts and family members are listed amongst the casualties. And legally, beating your wife is a crime, not a mental health issue.

Similarly, more Americans are killed every year in the United States by white male right-wing extremists than by any other type of organized terror group. Racism is also not considered a mental health issue — however, a strong argument can be made that participation in a white extremist group or organization should prevent an individual from possession of a firearm.

It seems only fair. The NRA and the GOP have been very comfortable restricting the Second Amendment rights of black people based on identity.

For example, both were very active in passing gun possession restriction in response to the Black Panthers asserting their Second Amendment right to self-defense. Conservatives denied Martlin Luther King, Jr. a firearm after he applied for one following the bombing of his home. They also have had no problem standing by silently as black and brown people are gunned down by police officers for nothing more than giving the impression that they are exercising their Second Amendment rights.
Rather than allowing the Gun Party to clear a pathway for white terrorist organizations and their affiliates to continue to committing mass murders while criminalizing people of color and scapegoating people with disabilities, we need to call bullshit on this Jim Crow song and dance.

The problem isn’t people with mental health issues. It’s guns. We need people to control guns. We don’t need to use guns as an excuse to control people.</p>
Guns  america 
march 2018 by charlesarthur
What critics don't understand about gun culture • The Atlantic
David French on how people go from non-gun owners to full-time gun carriers:
<p>Next, you realize that you want that sense of safety to travel with you. So you sign up for a concealed-carry permit class. You gather one night with friends and neighbors and spend the next eight hours combining a self-defense class with a dash of world-view training. And when you carry your weapon, you don’t feel intimidated, you feel empowered. In a way that’s tough to explain, the fact that you’re so much less dependent on the state for your personal security and safety makes you feel more “free” than you’ve ever felt before.  

And as your worldview changes, you expand your knowledge. You learn that people defend themselves with guns all the time, usually without pulling the trigger. You share the stories and your own experience with your friends, and soon they walk into gun stores. They start their own journey into America’s “gun culture.”

At the end of this process, your life has changed for the better. Your community has expanded to include people you truly like, who’ve perhaps helped you through a tough time in your life, and you treasure these relationships. You feel a sense of burning conviction that you, your family, and your community are safer and freer because you own and carry a gun.

It’s a myth that gun owners despise regulation. Instead, they tend to believe that government regulation should have two purposes—deny guns to the dangerous while protecting rights of access for the law-abiding. The formula is simple: Criminals and the dangerously mentally ill make our nation more violent. Law-abiding gun owners save and protect lives.

Thus the overwhelming support for background checks, the insistence from gun-rights supporters that the government enforce existing laws and lock up violent offenders, and the openness to solutions—like so-called “gun violence restraining orders” that specifically target troubled individuals for intervention.</p>

Stephen King (the writer) says, in one of his writing rules, that "nobody ever thinks of themselves as the bad guy". Gun ownership, as described here, is one of those slippery slopes, where you're always doing completely rational things. Just one more step. But seen from outside, it's just a descent into madness, with each step slightly more crazy than the next.

You're never the bad guy, though.
Guns  america 
march 2018 by charlesarthur
Want to fix gun violence in America? Go local • The Guardian
Aliza Aufrichtig, Lois Beckett, Jan Diehm and Jamiles Lartey:
<p>Half of America's gun homicides in 2015 were clustered in just 127 cities and towns, according to a new geographic analysis by the Guardian, even though they contain less than a quarter of the nation’s population.

Even within those cities, violence is further concentrated in the tiny neighborhood areas that saw two or more gun homicide incidents in a single year.

<img src="https://interactive.guim.co.uk/atoms/2016/12/local-guns/v/1484059933/files/images/USmap-Artboard_2.png" width="100%" />

Four and a half million Americans live in areas of these cities with the highest numbers of gun homicide, which are marked by intense poverty, low levels of education, and racial segregation. Geographically, these neighborhood areas are small: a total of about 1,200 neighborhood census tracts, which, laid side by side, would fit into an area just 42 miles wide by 42 miles long.

The problem they face is devastating. Though these neighborhood areas contain just 1.5% of the country’s population, they saw 26% of America’s total gun homicides.

Gun control advocates say it is unacceptable that Americans overall are "25 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than people in other developed countries". People who live in these neighborhood areas face an average gun homicide rate about 400 times higher than the rate across those high-income countries.</p>


Amazing piece of data journalism, digging down to the neighbourhood level: gun murder is a more common act where poverty, lack of education and racial segregation are high.
maps  crime  race  guns  america 
january 2018 by charlesarthur
What do you call a world that can’t learn from itself? • Eudaimonia
Umair Haque:
<p>There is a myth of exceptionalism in America that prevents it from looking outward, and learning from the world. It is made up of littler myths about greed being good, the weak deserving nothing, society being an arena, not a lever, for the survival of the fittest  —  and America is busy recounting those myths, not learning from the world, in slightly weaker (Democrats) or stronger (Republicans) forms. Still, the myths stay the same  —  and the debate is only really about whether a lightning bolt or a thunderstorm is the just punishment from the gods for the fallen, and a palace or a kingdom is the just reward for the cunning.

Hence, I have never once sees in America a leader saying, “hey! See that British healthcare system? That German union and pension system? Why don’t we propose that? They work!!” Instead, the whole American debate is self-referential  —  pundits debating Andrew Jackson (LOL) instead of, say, what the rest of the world does today in 2017. How can a broken society grow only by looking inwards? If you are a desperate, heart-broken addict, what can you learn from yourself? Won’t you only, recounting your pain, reach for the needle quicker?</p>


This is a fabulous essay. As he points out, American life expectancy is also lower than you'll find in comparable European countries, and as he also notes:
<p>The same is true for things like maternal mortality, stress, work and leisure, press freedom, quality of democracy — every single thing you can think of that impacts how well, happily, meaningfully, and sanely you live is worse in America, by a very long way.</p>


But as he also points out, neither is learning the lessons of the other.
economics  culture  america 
december 2017 by charlesarthur
The gun numbers: just 3% of American adults own a collective 133m firearms • The Guardian
Lois Beckett:
<p>surveys show that gun ownership in America is actually highly concentrated. Only 22 to 31% of Americans adults say they personally own a gun.

Rates of personal and household gun ownership appear to have declined over the past decades – roughly two-thirds of Americans today say they live in a gun-free household. By contrast, in the late 1970s, the majority of Americans said they lived in a household with guns.

Most of America’s gun owners have relatively modest collections, with the majority of gun owners having an average of just three guns, and nearly half owning just one or two, according to a 2015 survey by Harvard and Northeastern researchers, which gave the most in-depth estimate of Americans’ current patterns of gun ownerships.

But America’s gun super-owners, have amassed huge collections. Just 3% of American adults own a collective 133m firearms – half of America’s total gun stock. These owners have collections that range from eight to 140 guns, the 2015 study found. Their average collection: 17 guns each.

After the Las Vegas shooting, officials said the killer had 23 guns in his hotel room, and another 19 at home. Some Americans asked, shocked, why one person purchasing so many guns had not set off any red flags.

Part of the answer is that owning more than 40 guns is actually fairly common in the United States: there are an estimated 7.7 million super-owners, which might make it difficult to flag a mass shooter building an arsenal from enthusiastic collectors and gun enthusiasts piling up different kinds of guns for hunting different kinds of game, a selection of handguns for self-defense, and various accessories for the popular, customisable military-style rifles that enthusiasts have compared to lethal Lego sets for grown men.</p>


Easily overlooked that ownership isn't evenly distributed.
guns  america 
november 2017 by charlesarthur
How gridlock, social media giants and the Clintons made the internet ripe for Russian meddling • Daily Beast
Lachlan Markay and Andrew Desiderio:
<p>[Marc] Elias [a Democratic lawyer who led Hillary Clinton's team and found a way to coordinate with an in-theory-independent political ad group], indeed, is a recurring character in much of the drama that has led the social media political landscape to this current point. He also represented Google before the FEC in 2010 in what was the last instance of the FEC affirmatively ruling on a case involving the “small items” exemption for a major digital advertiser. In that case, Elias convinced the commission to exempt Google from disclosure rules as long as the pages to which its ads redirected did disclose who was behind them.

That case was specific to Google and did not establish broadly applicable rules for ad disclosure on social media, search engines, and similar platforms. The year after its Google ruling, the FEC opened up an initial comment period on such rules, but never ended up codifying them. It’s now reopened that comment period in what disclosure advocates hope will be an earnest effort to address the issue.

“That’s really the whole reason for campaign finance rules besides corruption and the like—but it is in part transparency so people can determine if there’s corruption, as well as just the ability to know who’s behind campaigns so they can make thoughtful decisions when they’re voting,” Ravel added. “All of these things are being done purposefully, in my view, to ultimately deregulate campaign finance completely.”

Divisions at the FEC remain deep, and the commission currently has just five members, meaning all but one of them would have to vote in favor of a regulatory proposal for it to go into effect.
A number of experts believe that Republican commissioner Matthew Peterson could rally a coalition to support a rule imposing additional disclosure requirements on digital political ads. But Trump has nominated Peterson to a federal judgeship, and it’s not likely that he’ll remain on the commission long enough to vote on a final rule.</p>


It all began, as the standfirst notes, with a blog years ago demanding Bill Clinton's impeachment. Political ads in the US are a mess, disclosure-wise.
politics  america  advertising 
october 2017 by charlesarthur
Trump's South Korea trade talk is just that • Bloomberg Gadfly
Shelly Banjo:
<p>even without North Korea's recent escalation, it seems unlikely America will totally quash the 2012 trade pact, known as KORUS.

America is South Korea's second-largest trading partner after China, while South Korea holds a spot much farther down the US list. But America doesn't actually have the capability or know-how to manufacture a whole lot of everyday things it needs, such as cell phones and computers.

So even though South Korea represents the US's seventh-largest trading partner, the North Asian nation sells a lot more than it buys: America's goods trade gap with South Korea was $27.7bn in 2016, more than double the $11.9bn deficit in 2007.

That means even if Trump wanted to rip up KORUS, there's little chance the river of stuff flowing into the US would stop. Rather, dissolving the pact would drive up consumer prices of smartphones and SUVs.

From a corporate perspective, fewer than 1% of South Korean companies depend on America for a meaningful amount of sales. Out of 2,750 publicly traded businesses, just 66 get more than a fifth of their revenue from the Americas, according to an analysis of data compiled by Bloomberg. </p>


Samsung would be affected; the US is its biggest market. But there's just no way this is going to happen. The timing is terrible, and the idea is stupid.
america  trade  korea  samsung 
september 2017 by charlesarthur
Public works funding falls as infrastructure deteriorates • The New York Times
Binyamin Appelbaum:
<p>It’s basically the opposite of a major government infrastructure program.

Government spending on transportation and other public works is in decline as federal funding stagnates and state and local governments tighten their belts.

Such spending equaled 1.4% of the nation’s economic output in the second quarter of 2017, the lowest level on record, according to Census Bureau data.

In West Virginia, where President Trump on Thursday touted a vague $1 trillion infrastructure plan, public works spending has fallen for five straight years.

Nate Orders, who runs a construction company founded by his grandfather to build bridges for the state, said he had been forced to scramble for other kinds of business. Only three of the 15 projects on his current slate are bridges in West Virginia.

“My grandfather would not recognize the business we have today,” he said.</p>


Absolute spending is lower than in 2007 in 34 US states. The country is falling apart. And yet it's hard to find workers because employment in general is at such a high level. And there's nothing happening with the Trump budget on that front.
infrastructure  taxes  america 
august 2017 by charlesarthur
Rooftop solar dims under pressure from utility lobbyists • The New York Times
Hiroko Tabuchi:
<p>Over the past six years, rooftop solar panel installations have seen explosive growth — as much as 900% by one estimate.

That growth has come to a shuddering stop this year, with a projected decline in new installations of 2%, according to projections from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

A number of factors are driving the reversal, from saturation in markets like California to financial woes at several top solar panel makers.

But the decline has also coincided with a concerted and well-funded lobbying campaign by traditional utilities, which have been working in state capitals across the country to reverse incentives for homeowners to install solar panels.

Utilities argue that rules allowing private solar customers to sell excess power back to the grid at the retail price — a practice known as net metering — can be unfair to homeowners who do not want or cannot afford their own solar installations.

Prodded in part by the utilities’ campaign, nearly every state in the country is engaged in a review of its solar energy policies. Since 2013, Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona, Maine and Indiana have decided to phase out net metering, crippling programs that spurred explosive growth in the rooftop solar market. (Nevada recently reversed its decision.)

Many more states are considering new or higher fees on solar customers.</p>


Selling back at the retail price (that you would pay to receive it) seems excessive. But solar deserves subsidy, for this reason: it reduces the future investment that utilities would otherwise have to make in power plants (or their own solar farms). Every kilowatt-hour generated by home solar doesn't have to be paid for by the utility, and won't in the future. Pricing the subsidy correctly is tricky, for sure.

However the "talking points" that the utilities were offering to try to get repeals (revealed later in the story) are nonsense.
solar  america 
july 2017 by charlesarthur
How a company you’ve never heard of sends you letters about your medical condition • Gizmodo
Kashmir Hill and Surya Mattu:
<p>In the summer of 2015, Alexandra Franco got a letter in the mail from a company she had never heard of called AcurianHealth. The letter, addressed to Franco personally, invited her to participate in a study of people with psoriasis, a condition that causes dry, itchy patches on the skin.

Franco did not have psoriasis. But the year before, she remembered, she had searched for information about it online, when a friend was dealing with the condition. And a few months prior to getting the letter, she had also turned to the internet with a question about a skin fungus. It was the sort of browsing anyone might do, on the assumption it was private and anonymous.

Now there was a letter, with her name and home address on it, targeting her as a potential skin-disease patient. Acurian is in the business of recruiting people to take part in clinical trials for drug companies. How had it identified her? She had done nothing that would publicly associate her with having a skin condition.</p>


You won't like how they did this - though it points to the US's terrible lack of protections for data, and its larcenous healthcare system (on which more below).
data  health  america 
june 2017 by charlesarthur
The great performance of our failing president • The New York Times
Geoffrey Kabaservice:
<p>President Trump won the election in large part because he was one of the few candidates from either party to address terrible problems in the left-behind parts of the country, including the drug epidemic, declining labor force participation rates and the rising cost of health care.

But when he arrived in the White House, he merely added his own brand of insult to the usual Washington partisanship. He didn’t begin to do the work that would have been required to assemble a bipartisan coalition around a genuine populist agenda. Instead, he agreed to make Paul Ryan’s draconian repeal of Obamacare his top priority. That provoked Democrats in Congress to be just as obstructionist and hostile as Republicans were under President Obama.

Toxic polarization means that Congress is unlikely to pass any significant legislation on infrastructure and tax reform that once might have attracted cross-aisle support. Mr. Trump also lacks the popularity that allowed presidents like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton to rally the public behind their proposals and compel Congress to go along with them, and he doesn’t seem to understand that their skillful use of the reputable media was an integral part of their success.

Mr. Trump cast himself during the election as the sole candidate able to break through Washington gridlock and get things done. Will his failure as a problem solver cause his supporters to abandon him?

I doubt it. Scratch a Trump supporter, and you’re likely to find someone deeply pessimistic about America and its future. Few believe that he will be able to bring back the good times (however they define them) because they’re convinced that the system is rigged: The “deep state” is too entrenched, the demographic tide too advanced and the global elite too powerful to allow real change.</p>


The pessimism is an important observation. It's very hard to turn pessimists into optimists.
trump  america 
june 2017 by charlesarthur
The addicts next door • The New Yorker
Margaret Talbot with a hugely detailed look at the place in the US with the highest ratio of opioid deaths:
<p>Recently, Martinsburg has begun to treat the heroin crisis more openly as a public-health problem. The police chief, a Chicago transplant named Maurice Richards, had devised a progressive-sounding plan called the Martinsburg Initiative, which would direct support services toward children who appeared to be at risk for addiction, because their families were struggling socially or emotionally. In December, Tina Stride and several other local citizens stood up at a zoning meeting to proclaim the need for a detox center. They countered several residents who testified that such a center would bring more addicts, and more heroin, to their neighborhoods. “I’m here to say that’s already here,” a woman in favor of the proposal said. “It’s in your neighbor’s house, in the bathroom at Wendy’s, in our schools.” She added, “We’re talking about making America great again? Well, it starts here.”

That night, the Board of Zoning Appeals voted to allow a detox center, run by Peter Callahan, the psychotherapist, to occupy an unused commercial building in town. People in the hearing room cheered and cried and hugged one another. The facility will have only sixteen beds and won’t be ready for patients until December, but the Hope Dealer women were thrilled about it. Now they wouldn’t have to drive halfway across the state every time an addict called them up.

John Aldis, who was sitting next to me during the vote, breathed a sigh of relief. He said later, “It’s like that Winston Churchill quote: ‘This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’ ”</p>

One notable quote is about making Narcan (which can bring people out of an opioid coma) free: there's some opposition from people who blame addicts for their problems.
Opioid  America 
may 2017 by charlesarthur
'The pill mill of America': where drugs mean there are no good choices, only less awful ones • The Guardian
Chris Arnade:
<p>Portsmouth, Ohio, once known for making things (steel, shoes, bricks), is now known for drugs, and labeled by some as the “pill mill of America”. The city peaked at 40,000 people in 1940, and as it emptied of factories and jobs – some made obsolete, some moved away – it also emptied of people and hope.

Now it is a town half the size, filled with despair and filling with drugs.

On my first night in town, a beat-up car parks next to me, positioned in the darkness cast by my van. The passenger, a middle-aged woman, injects the driver in the neck. He stays still, head tilted to expose a vein, as she works the needle in, while two young boys play in the back seat.

Done, they pull away as I try to fool myself into thinking I didn’t see what I saw.

For six days in Portsmouth, over three trips, I keep trying to fool myself. Eventually, I am unable to just watch and listen.</p>


Arnade toured middle America while the election was on last year; he reported from the front line of despair and joblessness, and saw the Trump phenomenon on the rise. The problem is, there's nothing on offer that's going to make life there change.

It's a remarkable piece, though. Do read it.
addiction  america 
may 2017 by charlesarthur
This dystopia is completely ridiculous • TechCrunch
Jon Evans, with quite the rant:
<p>Inside our bubble, modern medical research is doing amazing things; outside our bubble, modern medical policy is disappearing into a horrific maw of venal cruelty. In the same week, scientists announced they can cure HIV in mice, courtesy of CRISPR — and the wealthiest nation in the world, again apparently trying to recapitulate the 19th century, stripped healthcare from 24 million of its poorest citizens in favor of tax cuts for its wealthiest residents.

Inside our bubble, ordinary ponds are apparently now “organic pools.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">me (dumb): I&#39;m pretty sure that&#39;s a pond<br>late stage capitalism (smart): actually, it&#39;s an organic pool. We invented it. <a href="https://t.co/4eXuYQfmkN">pic.twitter.com/4eXuYQfmkN</a></p>&mdash; Zach Shearer 🌹 (@ZJShearer) <a href="https://twitter.com/ZJShearer/status/860673456588951552">May 6, 2017</a>
<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Inside our bubble, smug executives, professors, and venture capitalists argue against a universal basic income, claiming it will rob people of the “fundamental dignity of work” — while people who actually work jobs which are worse than those of executives, professors, and venture capitalists, like, say, building an iPhone, are mostly too tired, too beaten down, and insufficiently famous to call them on their bullshit. Why, it sounds … like the early days of the labor movement. When was that again? Oh yes.</p>

It seems like we need an updated version of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Jungle">Upton Sinclair's The Jungle</a>. (Dave Eggers's The Circle is close, but it doesn't get outside the, well, circle.)
dystopia  america 
may 2017 by charlesarthur
Is American retail at a historic tipping point? • The New York Times
Michael Corkery:
<p>Between 2010 and 2014, e-commerce grew by an average of $30 billion annually. Over the past three years, average annual growth has increased to $40 billion.

“That is the tipping point, right there,” said Barbara Denham, a senior economist at Reis, a real estate data and analytics firm. “It’s like the Doppler effect. The change is coming at you so fast, it feels like it is accelerating.”

This transformation is hollowing out suburban shopping malls, bankrupting longtime brands and leading to staggering job losses.

More workers in general merchandise stores have been laid off since October, about 89,000 Americans. That is more than all of the people employed in the United States coal industry, which President Trump championed during the campaign as a prime example of the workers who have been left behind in the economic recovery.

The job losses in retail could have unexpected social and political consequences, as huge numbers of low-wage retail employees become economically unhinged, just as manufacturing workers did in recent decades. About one out of every 10 Americans works in retail.

“There is a sea change happening in the retail industry,” said Mark Cohen, a former executive at Sears, who now runs the retail studies program at Columbia Business School. “And that is bringing a sea change in employment."…

…“This is creative destruction at its best,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “We are downsizing a part of the economy that is uncompetitive. While painful for those in the middle of it, this is how we grow and wealth is created.”

But Mr. Cohen, of Columbia University, said the upending of an entire industry will not be so tidy. Warehouses like the one in Red Hook typically employ a few hundred people, according to Sitex Group, a private equity firm that is expected to close on the property in a few weeks.

While these distribution centers could replace some of the work lost in stores, they likely won’t make up the entire difference. That is because much of the operations are automated and require different skills and sensibilities than selling jeans.</p>


A followup to the <a href="https://theoverspill.blog/2017/04/17/start-up-hacking-self-driving-cars-trump-hides-visitor-details-shadowbrokers-dissemble-and-more/#link1">data from Monday</a>. This is going to be the employment shift that faces the next sets of political candidates in 2018 and 2020.
america  retail 
april 2017 by charlesarthur
Survey finds foreign students aren’t applying to american colleges • NBC News
Ron Allen:
<p>In Cairo, Momen Rihan, who spent a few months as an exchange student in America and decided not to come back, said he's been observing posts on social media from other travelers.

"They say they face problems at airports when they try to check into the United States because they are Arab," Rihan said.

Taiwanese student Vicky Sung, who is deciding whether to attend University of Southern California or Boston University, said she's mindful of recent attacks on foreigners living and working in the United States. In February, two Indian-born men working in Kansas were shot and one of them killed in what federal prosecutors are calling a hate crime because the shooter allegedly said, "Get out of my country."

"Safety is a big concern for choosing which university to go to," Sung said, "or even whether to go at all."

Her friend, Yi Zhihui of China, also expressed concern about whether Trump will make visa's more restrictive if tensions with China over trade or other political issues heat up.

"I consider education sort of an investment, and if my visa gets canceled and I can't enter the country, that's kind of investment failure," he explained.</p>

Drip, drip.
Trump  university  America 
march 2017 by charlesarthur
Politics and change: reflections of an American immigrant tech worker • SD Times
Al Hilwa:
<p>The left-right political divide traces its roots to 18th-century France and is essentially about where people stand with respect to tolerance of social and economic change, giving us progressives and conservatives. While we are split in this country in this regard, those of us who work in technology have tended to have a deeper understanding of the modern mechanisms of change and thus a greater affinity for it. You could say we are heavily vested in it.

For those on the conservative side, they can enjoy the next four years of unrolling some change. For the progressives, the next four years will seem disheartening. I think it is helpful to take a longer view of history and take better stock of the modern era.

Compare our world with that of the 1950s, the turn of the century, or the 18th century. Consider social parameters such as voting rights for women or people of color, or even voting by non-property owners. Consider the shifts in attitude in interracial marriage, in racial segregation and slavery. Read through the Wikipedia page on the “Timeline of women’s legal rights” to see how just a couple of hundred years ago women were not able to own property.

Your exploration will lead you to one truth: In time, progressiveness has a good track record of prevailing.</p>
trump  america 
december 2016 by charlesarthur
Sunset over America: it’s time for the next superpower • Medium
I wrote something:
<p>The US used to be the envy of the world for its technology; who else could land people and a rover on the moon and bring them back safely? The 1960s were good, weren’t they? All that New Frontier stuff from Kennedy. Whoop!

But now the US is literally crumbling. An infrastructure renewal plan passed by Congress in December 2015, <a href="http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/2016/02/25/Roads-Crumble-Infrastructure-Spending-Hits-30-Year-Low">a five-year $305bn package, is only a drop in the bucket</a>:

According to the 2013 report card by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the U.S. has serious infrastructure needs of more than $3.4trn through 2020, including $1.7trn for roads, bridges and transit; $736bn for electricity and power grids; $391bn for schools; $134bn for airports; and $131bn for waterways and related projects.

US infrastructure spending has (as the article points out) hit a 30-year-low. Simply: the US has ignored its public costs for years. More generally, the US is showing the limits of Ayn Rand-style devil-take-the-hindmost capitalism. Pensions are outsourced (as a relative pointed out) to the stock market, which is risky. Health care (as noted above) is relegated to a situation where you can only be as ill as you can afford; otherwise you’re bankrupt or more ill. (I wonder: do people who are against universal healthcare refuse to provide financial help to ill friends? If they do, isn’t that hypocritical?) Government spending on everything socially useful is chipped away in favour of tax cuts, because people know best what to do with their money — don’t they? They’ll definitely ration it out on buying a pension and health insurance rather than beer, won’t they?</p>
america  sunset  superpower 
november 2016 by charlesarthur
America is more fragile than you think: a Marine Corps officer on why voters must defeat Donald Trump • Quartz
Jake Cusack:
<p>Scroll through the constellation of fear mongering sites that orbit conservative media and try to recognize the America you know in those stories. It makes sense that Trump supporters can believe so wholeheartedly that the country is on the verge of collapse.

In the context of this fear, particularly for many who served in the military, measured tones and caution seem like political double-speak and cowardice. They know there is a real enemy. IEDs do not kill in shades of grey. They have seen their friends die to take cities they now see filled with black flags on CNN.

These and other concerns with legitimate roots turn some of my friends and family towards Trump’s aggressive stance and anti-establishment voice, even as they are fully cognizant of his massive personal flaws.
 
But what they don’t see is how tenuous it all is. I’ve spent my life since Iraq in and out of conflict zones and fragile states. I’ve seen educated, wealthy communities descend overnight into ethnic cleansing. I’ve seen family men turned into butchers. I’ve seen a charismatic reformed warlord, surrounded by capable technical advisors, steer his country irretrievably into the abyss.

I was traveling across Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, and Sierra Leone when Trump escalated his comments suggesting that he’d try to put Hillary Clinton in jail and doubled down on his assertion of “rigged elections.” People there knew exactly what he meant, because they have heard that rhetoric before. This is the language of lands without strong institutions, bereft of the mutual trust that glues our democracy together. It’s the language of civil wars.</p>


Here's my limited take. The US is reaping the whirlwind of a social and taxation system which insists that there's no benefit in helping everyone; where health care isn't a public benefit, but a private burden; that being rich makes you better than someone who is poor; having a vote seems to make no difference; and anyone can own a gun. Pull on that thread.
america 
november 2016 by charlesarthur
Why Trump voters are not “complete idiots” • Medium
<a href="https://twitter.com/Chris_arnade/">Chris Arnade</a> is a photographer and writer; he wrote this on May 30, but its message is more important to understand than ever - and it applies too over "Brexit":
<p>When the Democrats under Clinton in the early ‘90s shifted towards a pro market agenda, they made a dramatic shift towards accepting the Republicans definition of value as being about the economic.

Now elites in both major parties see their broad political goal as increasing the GDP, regardless of how it is done.

This has failed most Americans, other than the elite, in two ways. It has failed to provide an economic boost (incomes are broadly flat), and it has forgotten that many people see value as being not just economic, but social. It has been a one-two punch that has completely left behind many people.
For many people value is about having meaning beyond money. It is about having institutions that work for you. Like Church. Family. Sports Leagues.

In addition, the social nature of jobs has been destroyed. Unions provided more than just economic power, they also provided social inclusion.

You can scrap this entire analysis as silly if you want, but please try and understand the core point missing from much of the current dialogue — large parts of the US have become completely isolated, socially and economically.

Kids are growing up in towns where by six, or seven, or eleven, they are doomed to be viewed as second class. They feel unvalued. They feel stuck. They are mocked. And there is nothing they feel they can do about it.</p>


His explanation of the step change between the two levels, and why those on the lower level would welcome disruptive change, is salutary.
trump  america 
october 2016 by charlesarthur
Trump days • The New Yorker
George Saunders touted around a number of states watching Trump rallies and speaking to his supporters:
<p>The Trump supporter comes out of the conservative tradition but is not a traditional conservative. He is less patient: something is bothering him and he wants it stopped <em>now</em>, by any means necessary. He seems less influenced by Goldwater and Reagan than by Fox News and reality TV, his understanding of history recent and selective; he is less religiously grounded and more willing, in his acceptance of Trump’s racist and misogynist excesses, to (let’s say) forgo the niceties.

As for Trump’s uncivil speech—the insults, the petty meanness, the crudeness, the talk about hand size, the assurance, on national TV, that his would-be Presidential dick is up to the job, his mastery of the jaw-droppingly untrue personal smear (Obama is Kenyan, Ted Cruz’s dad was in cahoots with Lee Harvey Oswald, U.S. Muslims knew what was “going on” pre-Orlando), which he often dishonorably eases into the world by attaching some form of the phrase “many people have said this” (<em>The world is flat; many people have said this. People are saying that birds can play the cello: we need to look into that</em>)—his supporters seem constitutionally reluctant to object, as if the act of objecting would mark them as fatally delicate. Objecting to this sort of thing is for the coddled, the liberal, the élite. “Yeah, he can really improve, in the way he says things,” one woman in Fountain Hills tells me. “But who gives a shit? Because if he’s going to get the job done? I’m just saying. You can’t let your feelings get hurt. It’s kind of like, get over it, you know what I mean? What’s the big picture here? The big picture is we’ve got to get America back on track.”</p>


Again, I'd like to see a similar version, but with Hillary supporters/rallies.
america  trump 
july 2016 by charlesarthur
Many middle-class Americans are living paycheck to paycheck • The Atlantic
Neal Gabler:
<p>[In a survey] The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47% of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?

Well, I knew. I knew because I am in that 47%.

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


Tell me again how you don't understand how Donald Trump's populist neo-fascist calls to bring work back to America strike a chord with some.
economics  economy  america 
may 2016 by charlesarthur

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