Roundup – Dark Blarts

Best of the Best:

Why Candidates With No Experience Are Winning Over Voters [Alan Greenblatt on Governing Magazine] (9/25/15)

In August, Robert Gray, a truck driver by trade who spent zero dollars on the race, won the Democratic nomination for governor of Mississippi. Gray hadn’t even bothered informing his mother, who lives with him, that he was running. He also didn’t bother voting for himself. Gray’s situation may sound unusual, but something like it actually seems to occur just about every election cycle. There are plenty of nominations barely worth pursuing around the country in low-profile races against formidable incumbents. But in the South, neither the press nor voters pay much attention to many Democratic primary races, making the region particularly fertile ground for political unknowns to win statewide nominations.

The Most Expensive Place in the World to Live [Nick Timiraos on Real Time Economics on The Wall Street Journal] (9/22/15)

New York City takes the top spot in the annual ranking of the world’s most expensive cities, according to an analysis by UBS. The cost of goods and services was higher in just two other cities—Zurich and Geneva—but they were less expensive than New York after including rent. The Swiss cities were markedly more expensive than in last year’s study because of the Swiss National Bank’s decision in January to discontinue its minimum exchange rate. Prices in Japanese and European cities, meanwhile, fell over the past year as the euro and yen weakened against the dollar. Including rent, other U.S. cities among the most expensive included Chicago (7th), Miami (11th) and Los Angeles (13th). The cheapest cities last year among the 71 surveyed: Kiev, Ukraine, and the Bulgarian capital city, Sofia. Prices were 2.5 times higher in the Swiss cities than in those Eastern European capitals.

Yogi Berra Was One Of A Kind [Rob Arthur on FiveThirtyEight] (9/23/15)

By quality, he was one of the best catchers ever, amassing the fifth-most total wins above replacement at the position and the 11th-most WAR per game.1 By quantity, he played in 13.2 percent of all of the Yankees games in history and more World Series games than any other single player. But more than the obvious accolades — the three Most Valuable Player awards, the 10 World Series wins — Berra was exceptional by virtue of his improbability. As a 19-year-old, Berra participated in the D-Day invasion as a member of the U.S. Navy, fighting from a boat at Omaha Beach, where there were some 2,000 casualties. He was later injured in Marseilles and earned a Purple Heart. After he returned to baseball, he played in just 77 minor-league games before advancing to the majors. Because of his service, Berra didn’t begin his career in earnest until he was 21 years old. Berra was unlikely even as a baseball player: All of 5 feet 7 inches tall, he launched 358 home runs during his career, 90 more than anyone his height or shorter.2 Berra was an unusually disciplined batter, striking out in only 4.9 percent of his plate appearances. That combination of power and plate discipline is exceptionally rare in MLB history.

One Reason Women Aren’t Getting the Promotion: They Don’t Want It [Rebecca Greenfield on Bloomberg News] (9/25/15)

The paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), incorporates nine studies conducted on various high-achieving groups. Combined, the research indicates that women value power less than men, and the studies try to explain the phenomenon. In one of the studies, conducted on 650 recent MBA graduates, researchers had participants rank their current position in their industry, their ideal position, and the highest position they could realistically attain. Women had no doubt they could “realistically attain” the same level of success as men, but they listed lower ideal positions. Another one of the studies helps explain that finding, by suggesting women have more negative associations with power than men do. “Women expect more stress, burden, conflicts, and difficult trade-offs to accompany high-level positions,” said Alison Wood Brooks, a co-author of the paper and an assistant professor of business administration at Harvard. One explanation for why power stresses women out: They have less time in which to attain a greater number of goals. In another of the nine studies, researchers asked about 800 working adults to rank their goals, defined as “things that occupy your thoughts on a routine basis, things that you deeply care about, or things that motivate your behavior and decisions.” The women surveyed not only listed more goals, but a smaller proportion of those goals were related to achieving power.

The Joy of Six: Short-lived football rule changes [Paul Doyle and Nick Miller on The Guardian] (9/25/15)

When football first crawled into being with the codification of the first standardised rules in 1863, there was actually no such thing as a specialist goalkeeper, with anyone allowed to catch the ball, but not carry it. However, in 1870 an amendment to the laws was added: ‘The goalkeeper may, within his own half of the field of play, use his hands, but shall not carry the ball.’ For the next 40-odd years (and, admittedly, it might be a slight stretch to call 40 years shortlived), football trundled on fairly well, making additions here and there, but the goalkeeper rule remained – until Roose came along. Roose’s ruse was to exploit the loophole in the ‘no carrying’ law by bouncing the ball up to the halfway line, battering opponents out of the way as he went, from where an attack would be launched. This, as you can imagine, proved unpopular, with several opposing clubs complaining to the FA, to the point that when Roose retired in 1912, the law was altered.

The Risk of a Billion-Dollar Valuation in Silicon Valley [Steven Davidoff Solomon on The New York Times] (9/22/15)

The liquidation preference is among the most important of these protections. This feature provides that the venture capital firm’s investment will be repaid before the founders and employees are rewarded. If the firm has particular leverage, it can negotiate an even more protective form, known as the senior liquidation preference, which provides that the firm will be paid not only before the common stockholders but also before anyone else who bought preferred stock in earlier rounds. These provisions apply in a sale but not in an initial public offering of stock. The idea is to ensure that even if the investment does not perform well, the venture investor will still get back its initial money. According to a recent survey by the law firm Fenwick & West of 37 unicorns — private companies with valuations of $1 billion or more — every investment had a liquidation preference. Let’s reflect on this. In the public markets, you invest your money and there is no guarantee what return you will get. But in Silicon Valley, you can get a guarantee of minimum proceeds in any sale, over and above what other investors receive. It’s a sweet deal, and it goes a long way toward explaining why venture capital firms are comfortable with lofty valuations. Such a guarantee very likely pushes valuations even higher.

Little-Known Candidate Dominates Airwaves in South Carolina Presidential Primary [Tim Higgins on Bloomberg News] (9/24/15)

Robby Wells, the former head football coach of Savannah State University and now a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, has paid for commercials to run 220 times on broadcast stations in Charleston, Columbia, and Myrtle Beach since Aug. 1 as part of his bid for the White House, according to data from Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks political ads. That makes him the biggest buyer among the Democratic presidential hopefuls at the moment in the early primary state.

Hawaii Lawyers Warned Not to Help Medical Marijuana Businesses [Anita Hofschneider on Honolulu Civil Beat] (9/22/15)

Hawaii lawyers can’t help clients apply for high-stakes medical marijuana dispensary licenses authorized under a new state law, according to a formal opinion of the Hawaii Supreme Court Disciplinary Board. Attorneys can provide legal advice regarding the state’s newly enacted medical marijuana dispensary law, but shouldn’t provide legal services to help establish or operate businesses because that would assist in committing a federal crime, the board said. Hawaii legalized medical marijuana 15 years ago, but patients have had to grow their own or rely on the black market for access to their medicine. A new law approved this year allows eight companies to receive licenses to grow and sell marijuana at up to 16 dispensaries as early as next summer. Several entrepreneurs have already hired attorneys to help them prepare applications to enter what’s expected to be a multi-million-dollar industry. But the decision by the Disciplinary Board, an 18-member appointed group made up of volunteers who conduct investigations and prosecutions of attorneys suspected of unethical actions, is bad news for lawyers hoping to get involved in the industry and those who are relying on them. Attorneys who violate ethics rules risk losing their ability to practice law in Hawaii.

Rich Kids Eat a Ton of Fast Food Too [John Tozzi on Bloomberg News] (9/15/15)

Kids from low-income families are more likely to be obese than wealthier children, research suggests. But the relationship is complex, and scientists are still trying to untangle the links between income and such factors as diet and exercise that contribute to obesity. New data make those connections even more complicated. Low-income kids—from households earning less than $31,500 for a family of four—got about the same percentage of their calories from fast food as wealthier kids, according to a federal survey of more than 5,000 people, including children of all ages, from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Head to head [Jacob Burak on Aeon Magazine] (10/8/15)

The social drama of rivalry, with its hostility and aggression, masks a deeper subconscious dynamic. We might think of our nemesis as the polar opposite of ourselves, but as Kilduff’s research suggests, our rivals are much more like us than we dare admit. While this might seem counter-intuitive, it follows that rivalry can actually be good for us: acknowledging that our rivals share our most essential traits, good and bad, can help us up our game and gain some of the insight we need for greater success.

How Cartrivision’s 1972 VCR Foresaw—And Forfeited—The Time-Shifted Future [Ross Rubin on Fast Company] (9/21/15)

Three years before Sony’s Betamax, more than a decade before Blockbuster, and 25 years before Netflix offered rented movies by mail, a team based in San Jose, California, ushered Americans into the era of time-shifting and on-demand video with the first consumer videotape recorder available in the U.S. Cartridge Television’s Cartrivision could record and play back color-TV programs, play prerecorded videos, act as a closed-circuit security camera, and even play back home movies recorded on its companion video camera. It was an ambitious, versatile machine. Within 13 months, it flopped.

Pennsylvania State Supreme Court Justice’s Emails Only ‘Mildly Pornographic’ [Craig R. McCoy on The Philadelphia Inquirer via Governing Magazine] (10/20/15)

“Mildly pornographic.” No worse than what “appears commonly in Playboy.” That was what a Pennsylvania board determined late last year when it cleared state Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin of misconduct _ even though he’d received about 50 pornographic emails on state computers.

Obama Administration Hits Back at Student Debtors Seeking Relief [Natalie Kitroeff on Bloomberg News] (10/14/15)

On Tuesday, the Department of Education intervened in the case of Robert Murphy, an unemployed 65-year-old who has waged a three-year legal battle to erase his student loans in bankruptcy. Unlike almost every single form of consumer debt, student loans can be erased only in very rare circumstances. Murphy’s case, which is currently being heard in a federal court in Boston, could make things a little easier for certain borrowers. A win for Murphy would relieve him of $246,500 in debt and could loosen the standard used to determine how desperate someone needs to be to qualify for relief. The court asked the Education Department to weigh in on the matter. In a document submitted to the court on Tuesday, government lawyers urged the federal judges not to cede any ground to borrowers who say they are in dire financial straits. Doing so would imperil “the fiscal stability of the loan program” that has existed for half a century.

The CIA director was hacked by a 13-year-old, but he still wants your data [Trevor Timm on The Guardian] (10/20/15)

The world’s most powerful spy, CIA chief John Brennan, was bested on Monday by a self-described “stoner” 13-year-old and an associate, who broke into his America Online email account and started posting some of its contents on Twitter. At least some of Brennan’s private emails seemed to contain extremely sensitive information including his security clearance application and the social security numbers of several CIA officers.

How bloated pensions contribute to police brutality [Radley Balko on The Washington Post] (10/15/15)

And so as the country is in the midst of a heated discussion about police brutality and police shootings, as the city of Chicago is still sorting out the torture scandal from the 1980s and new allegations about “black sites” and secret interrogations, it brought in a guy who was just profiled in the New York Times as an apologist for police shootings . . . to train the body in charge of investigating police shootings. I’d argue that the fact that this comes just as the mayor was pushing a plan that would let the city underpay its obligation to the police pension fund is no coincidence. The Emanuel administration is sending a clear signal to the police union and its supporters about where it stands in the police brutality debate. And they’re hoping to buy themselves some goodwill. It would also explain why Emanuel recently blamed the city’s increase in homicides on anti-police brutality protest groups like Black Lives Matter, why he defended the promotion of a cop under investigation for helping cover up a murder investigation, why he replaced a police chief who held bad cops accountable with one who promised that he would “[get] cops’ backs,” and the various other decisions he’s made that have left the city’s police department less accountable and less transparent.

The Assassination Papers [Jeremy Scahill on The Intercept]

Drones are a tool, not a policy. The policy is assassination…The Intercept has obtained a cache of secret slides that provides a window into the inner workings of the U.S. military’s kill/capture operations at a key time in the evolution of the drone wars — between 2011 and 2013. The documents, which also outline the internal views of special operations forces on the shortcomings and flaws of the drone program, were provided by a source within the intelligence community who worked on the types of operations and programs described in the slides. The Intercept granted the source’s request for anonymity because the materials are classified and because the U.S. government has engaged in aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers…Taken together, the secret documents lead to the conclusion that Washington’s 14-year high-value targeting campaign suffers from an overreliance on signals intelligence, an apparently incalculable civilian toll, and — due to a preference for assassination rather than capture — an inability to extract potentially valuable intelligence from terror suspects. They also highlight the futility of the war in Afghanistan by showing how the U.S. has poured vast resources into killing local insurgents, in the process exacerbating the very threat the U.S. is seeking to confront.

Snowden Says Hillary Clinton’s Bogus Statements Show a “Lack of Political Courage” [Jenna McLaughlin on The Intercept] (10/16/15)

Hillary Clinton twice this week has insisted, contrary to the facts, that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden could have accomplished his goals and avoided punishment if he’d raised his concerns through the proper channels. Clinton first made that assertion at Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate, and again at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire on Friday…During Tuesday’s debate, Clinton said Snowden “could have been a whistleblower. He could have gotten all of the protections of being a whistleblower. He could have raised all the issues that he has raised. And I think there would have been a positive response to that.” (She also inaccurately claimed that the Snowden files had “fallen into a lot of the wrong hands.”) But media outlets and advocates quickly noted that Snowden was not in fact entitled to whistleblower protections, which do not apply to contractors. Snowden has also maintained that he did try going through established channels, to no avail. And the official response to his leaks strongly suggests that no one in his chain of command was interested in letting his concerns reach the public…PolitiFact rated Clinton’s claim as “mostly false.”

Surge in immigrant driver’s licenses may have spurred more organ donors [Brenna Lyles on The Sacramento Bee] (10/19/15)

Long-debated legislation that granted driver’s licenses to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants may have sparked a recent spike in organ and tissue donor registrations and donations in California, state officials say. Since Assembly Bill 60 went into effect in January, the state’s organ and tissue registry, operated by the nonprofit organization Donate Life California, has seen its donor list grow by 30 percent. At the same time, Sacramento saw a 14 percent surge in organ and tissue donations from deceased people in the first half of this year, compared to the average for the period over the past three years, according to Sacramento’s organ transplant network Sierra Donor Services. Overall, California witnessed an 8 percent rise in deceased organ donations in the same period, found the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Demand for organs remains high across the state. More than 23,000 Californians, including 1,300 people in the Greater Sacramento region, remain on transplant waiting lists, according to Sierra Donor Services.

Germany Appears to Have Bought Right to Host 2006 Tournament [Der Spiegel] (10/16/15)

In what could turn out to be the greatest crisis in German football since the Bundesliga bribery scandal of the 1970s, SPIEGEL has learned that the decision to award the 2006 World Cup to Germany was likely bought in the form of bribes. The German bidding committee set up a slush fund that was filled secretly by then-Adidas CEO Robert Louis-Dreyfus to the tune of 10.3 million Swiss francs, which at the time was worth 13 million deutsche marks. It appears that both Franz Beckenbauer, the German football hero who headed the bidding committee, and Wolfgang Niersbach, the current head of the German Football Federation (DFB), and other high-ranking football officials were aware of the fund by 2005 at the latest.

Obscure, Yet Powerful, Jobs in State and Local Government [Louis Jacobson on Governing Magazine] (9/30/15)

Delaware has long had tax-friendly laws, which is one reason that about half of U.S. public corporations have incorporated in the state. The court that holds jurisdiction over those companies — and, as a result, that wields significant power nationally and even internationally — is the Delaware Court of Chancery. The five members of the court “are among the most respected judges in the country,” said G. Marcus Cole, a Stanford University law professor who has studied Delaware’s role in business regulation. “Academics regard them as among the most scholarly bench to be found anywhere. Corporate lawyers know them by name and temperament in much the same way that others know the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. Their published opinions and academic articles are influential in other states and with the federal judiciary.”

Heroin Overburdening Foster Care Systems [Sophie Quinton on Stateline via Governing Magazine] (10/9/15)

In Ohio and other states ravaged by the latest drug epidemic, officials say substance abuse by parents is a major reason for the growing number of children in foster care. In Clermont County, east of Cincinnati, more than half the children placed in foster care this year have parents who are addicted to opiates, [Clermont County’s assistant director of child protective services Timothy] Dick said. The number of children living in foster care started rising in 2013 after years of decline. Last year, about 415,000 children were living in foster care, according to federal statistics released last week. Fifteen percent of them hadn’t yet passed their second birthday. It’s not clear how many child-welfare cases nationwide involve parents abusing drugs or alcohol, said Nancy Young, director of the federally funded National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare.

The Taliban Is Capturing Afghanistan’s $1 Trillion in Mining Wealth [Eltaf Najafizada on Bloomberg News] (10/20/15)

The Afghan government will earn about $30 million in 2015 from its mineral sector for the third straight year, far short of a previous projection of $1.5 billion, according to Mines and Petroleum Minister Daud Shah Saba. That’s also a quarter of what smugglers — mostly linked to the Taliban and local warlords — earn annually selling rubies and emeralds, he said…Afghanistan’s struggles to generate cash signal that it could be decades before Kabul’s leaders wean themselves off funds from the U.S. and its allies. U.S. President Barack Obama last week decided to keep 5,500 troops in the country indefinitely after 2016, underscoring the Taliban’s strength after 14 years of war. International donors led by the U.S. are paying for about two-thirds of Afghanistan’s $7.2 billion budget this year. The country’s mineral wealth — estimated at $1 trillion to $3 trillion — is crucial to bridging that gap.

Oklahoma Earthquakes Are a National Security Threat [Matthew Philips on Bloomberg News] (10/23/15)

In the months after Sept. 11, 2001, as U.S. security officials assessed the top targets for potential terrorist attacks, the small town of Cushing, Okla., received special attention. Even though it is home to fewer than 10,000 people, Cushing is the largest commercial oil storage hub in North America, second only in size to the U.S. government’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The small town’s giant tanks, some big enough to fit a Boeing 747 jet inside, were filled with around 10 million barrels of crude at the time, an obvious target for someone looking to disrupt America’s economy and energy supply. The FBI, state and local law enforcement and emergency officials, and the energy companies that own the tanks formed a group called the Safety Alliance of Cushing. Soon, guards took up posts along the perimeter of storage facilities and newly installed cameras kept constant surveillance. References to the giant tanks and pipelines were removed from the Cushing Chamber of Commerce website. In 2004, the Safety Alliance simulated a series of emergencies: an explosion, a fire, a hostage situation. After the shale boom added millions of additional barrels to Cushing, its tanks swelled to a peak hoard of more than 60 million barrels this spring. That’s about as much petroleum as the U.S. uses in three days, and it’s more than six times the quantity that triggered security concerns after Sept. 11. The Safety Alliance has remained vigilant, even staging tornado simulations after a few close calls. Now the massive oil stockpile faces an emerging threat: earthquakes. In the past month, a flurry of quakes have hit within a few miles of Cushing, rattling the town and its massive tanks…Now that quakes appear to have migrated closer to Cushing, the issue of what to do about them has morphed from a state issue to one of natural security. The oil in Cushing props up the $179 billion in West Texas Intermediate futures and options contracts traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Not only is Cushing crucial to the financial side of the oil market, it is integral to the way physical crude flows around the country. As U.S. oil production has nearly doubled over the past six years, Cushing has become an important stop in getting oil down from the Bakken fields of North Dakota and into refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast. If even a couple of Cushing’s tanks had to shut down, or a pipeline were damaged, the impact could ripple through the market, probably pushing prices up. That outcome is especially likely if a spill were to knock Cushing offline for a period of time—a scenario no less dangerous than a potential terrorist attack.

Feds Investigate Florida Police Money Laundering [Michael Sallah on The Miami Herald via Governing Magazine] (10/26/15)

The ongoing probe follows a Miami Herald series, License to Launder, which showed the task force officers from Bal Harbour and the Glades County Sheriff’s Office posed as money launderers while they jetted into a dozen cities to pick up drug cash in a sting operation to clean money for cartels and other groups with the stated goal of arresting suspects. Ultimately, they kept at least $2.4 million for themselves for arranging the deals — returning the rest of the money to the same criminal groups — but never made any arrests of their own.

Here’s Proof That Age Discrimination Is Widespread in the Job Market [Steve Matthews on Bloomberg News] (10/26/15)

Age discrimination is pervasive in the U.S., despite laws that prohibit it. And the older you are, the more discrimination you face, according to the authors of a National Bureau of Economic Research study out Monday. Older women have it particularly tough.

Drug use now rivals drunk driving as cause of fatal car crashes, study says [Ashley Halsey III on The Washington Post] (9/30/15)

In surveys and focus groups done in two states — Colorado and Washington — regular marijuana users said they felt their habit did not impair their ability to drive and, in some cases, improved it. “They believed that they can compensate for any effects of marijuana, for instance by driving more slowly or by allowing greater headways,” the GHSA report said. “They believed it is safer to drive after using marijuana than after drinking alcohol.”

Nobel Laureates Who Were Not Always Noble [Mark Strauss on National Geographic] (10/6/15)

Danish scientist Johannes Fibiger won the 1926 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering what he thought was a cancer-causing parasite—a bold idea that turned out to be phenomenally wrong. Fibiger studied wild rats with warty growths, which Fibiger believed was a form of cancer caused by parasitic worms. His Nobel Prize was awarded with the declaration that these findings were “the greatest contribution to experimental medicine in our generation.” Only, it wasn’t. While it’s true that some infections can lead to cancer, his rats’ disease wasn’t caused by parasites. It wasn’t even cancer. The warty bumps in the rats’ stomachs were actually caused by a Vitamin A deficiency, exacerbated by the parasites. Why the Nobel? “The dawn of the microbial age was at the end of the 19th century, and he was in the early 20th century,” says Stanford professor of epidemiology Julie Parsonnet. “People were very excited about this possibility that infections caused everything.” And it certainly didn’t hurt that Fibiger had friends on the Nobel committee.

The Top 10 Counties Where People Are Moving [Mike Macaig on Governing Magazine] (10/7/15)

Counties recording the largest net migration losses were Los Angeles County, Calif., (-53,670); Cook County, Ill., (-49,142); Manhattan, N.Y., (-28,123); and Brooklyn, N.Y., (-27,416). Population losses for these counties are largely offset by international migration, most of which is not reflected in the IRS data.

Hotel sex parties are not free speech: a small Connecticut town’s big legal win [Alan  Yuhas on The Guardian] (10/5/15)

For more than three years, the small Connecticut town of Windsor Locks has spent time, energy and cash to fend off a lawsuit brought by Sharok Jacobi, the owner of a hotel that played host to sex parties and concerts that violated state laws. In 2012 Jacobi sued the town and police department, alleging that they had infringed on free speech and association rights, violated its privacy, and unfairly targeted the hotel because it catered to an African American and Hispanic clientele. Complaints about Jacobi’s hotel began in 2007, when neighbors and staff called police over rowdy parties, fights and at least two gunfights there. Before long, police heard from a man who claimed that he could see sexual acts in the hotel from a cafe across the street. Two liquor control agents met with the tipster at a Dunkin Donuts, and were shown photos of a swingers’ party in the hotel bar. The agents promptly signed up for a party at the hotel, known over the years as Club 91 and the Windsor Lounge, organized by a group called “Hot Couples”. From the hotel bar, they had “a clear view into a sitting area” despite someone’s attempt “to obstruct viewing with plants”, according to court documents…Jacobi also alleged that the secret identity of the cafe informant threw into question police procedures: the concerned citizen was in fact John Moylan, the operator of a competing sex group known as the New England Swingers, and a man with “an obsessive interest in stopping [Hot Couples] events”, according to Jacobi.

Kim Jong-un’s recipe for success: private enterprise and public executions [Andrei Lankov on The Guardian] (10/7/15)

The greatest success of the young dictator has been the reform of agriculture, similar to what the Chinese did in the late 1970s. Fields, while technically state-owned, are given for cultivation to individual households and farmers work for a share of the harvest (30%-70%). The results of the reforms were predictable: the past few years have seen record-level harvests, and North Korea is now close to self-sufficiency in food production. This year a major drought prompted concern but it now seems that farmers, working not for the party’s glory but for their own gain, managed to fix the problem, and this year’s harvest is going to be high – perhaps even a record breaker. If plans for industrial reforms (decentralisation and partial privatisation of what is left of state industries) are taken into account, the general picture seems clear. Kim Jong-un wants to apply to his country a model of authoritarian capitalism, a so-called “developmental dictatorship”…North Korea has a problem not faced by China nor Vietnam: the existence of a rich twin state in the south. South Korea’s per capita income is at least 15 times higher, while its population speaks the same language and is officially part of the same nation, which is supposed to eventually, somehow, unify. To put it in context, the per capita gap between the two German states in the 1980s was merely threefold. This gap is the reason why the North Korean state has maintained a level of isolation no other communist regime could think of: even ownership of a tuneable radio is a crime. However, a relaxation could mean the populace learning about South Korea’s unbelievable prosperity and doing what East Germans did 25 years ago in a rather similar situation. This threat was well understood by Kim Jong-il, and was the major reason why he did not dare to launch reforms. His son made a different decision, but in order to stay in power he cannot afford any political relaxation, so economic liberalisation is now combined with public executions. This gives Kim Jong-un the chance to succeed in reforming his country without being overthrown and lynched by a revolutionary mob. Alas, the price for this strategy, which makes perfect sense to the elite, will be paid by common people.

2,000% Drug Price Surge Is a Side Effect of FDA Safety Program [Robert Langreth and Cynthia Koons on Bloomberg News] (10/6/15)

Colchicine, a gout remedy so old that the ancient Greeks knew about its effects, used to cost about 25 cents per pill in the U.S. Then in 2010 its price suddenly jumped 2,000 percent. That’s just one of the side effects of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration plan to encourage testing of medicines that have been around longer than the modern FDA itself, and so have never gotten formal approval. Companies that do the tests are rewarded with licenses that can temporarily give them monopoly pricing power as most rivals are eased or kicked off the market. The result has been a surge in the cost of drugs used in treatments from anesthesia to heart surgery and eye operations.

Meet the Winners of the World’s First Sugar Baby Beauty Contest [Jaya Saxena on Mic] (9/22/15)

Seeking Arrangement is a website that facilitates sugar dating, which is usually defined as the act of explicitly exchanging goods and/or cash for companionship and often (but not always) sex. While sugar dating has historically been something of an unspoken arrangement, thanks to the rise of the Internet the practice has become more visible, which means an increasing number of women are signing up for the site…Sites like Seeking Arrangement have prompted a slew of pearl-clutching thinkpieces and 20/20 segments warning parents that their daughters are eschewing $8/hr work-study jobs to shack up with wealthy older men. The latest entry in this subgenre is a GQ story by Taffy Brodesser-Akner on the “bold new transactional-love economy,” which polled sugar babies and Daddies from Seeking Arrangement about their experiences. In the piece, which quickly came under fire as exemplary of the double standard against women in sex work, Brodesser-Ackner concluded that sugar dating wasn’t a consensual arrangement, but rather a scam that exploited young women. “These girls think they’re getting what they want,” she wrote. “But you can’t get what you want in this world without a scam, without thinking you are the grifter and not the mark.” When Mic spoke to the sugar babies in the competition, however, they said the website was far from exploitative. Rather, they saw their presence on Seeking Arrangement as a way to help them further their career goals, while simultaneously providing mutually satisfying companionship for older men…If in the sharing economy every hour is a billable one, sugar dating then becomes a sort of two-in-one. It’s a job, but it’s also dating; it’s socializing, but with an extra monetary incentive. It’s a relationship that doesn’t take time or energy away from getting paid. It’s part of the hustle…”As more and more women and men are willing to publicly declare their desire for such a relationship (via posting said desire on a website), more and more people have the opportunity to get up in arms [about it],” she told Mic. “This results in repudiation and moralizing. ‘Those poor young women!’ ‘Those slutty young vixens!'” That form of slut-shaming might stem at least in part from the fact that there are aspects of sugar dating that, while consensual on websites like Seeking Arrangement, mirror non-consensual situations elsewhere. There have been women who have felt pressured to “give it up” after being treated to dinner, just as there are men who feel “entitled” to sex if they buy a woman jewelry. In sugar dating, however, these pressures and expectations are consensually agreed upon beforehand — ideally, before a relationship even begins…But what is perhaps most subversive about sugar dating is how closely it mirrors tropes that are hidden, if not explicitly discussed, in the mainstream dating world. In its purest form, sugar dating is a mutually beneficial arrangement: She gets money, he gets sex or some form of emotional intimacy. On Seeking Arrangement, both parties’ motivations for being in a relationship are laid bare, in a way they wouldn’t be in the IRL dating world. In some ways, this type of mutual honesty about what’s to be expected from a relationship is refreshing…But it also tends to rankle a lot of people — especially because sex and money, two of the biggest taboos in our culture, are both involved. We believe relationships should be free of such sordid context. We don’t think genuine friendships or partnerships are based on such cynical arrangements as sex for money, or money for sex. We’re supposed to get nothing out of our lovers besides emotional support and emotional support is supposed to be free. If nothing else, sugar dating proves this idea dead wrong.

Denmark puts ad in Lebanese newspapers: Dear refugees, don’t come here [Adam Taylor on The Washington Post] (9/7/15)

The advertisement lists a number of factors that would make Denmark an undesirable destination for refugees, including recent legislation that would reduce social benefits to arriving refugees by 50 percent. Pointedly, it notes that anyone hoping to gain permanent residence in Denmark would have to learn Danish. Arabic and English versions of the advertisement, placed by Denmark’s Ministry of Immigration, Integration and Housing, ran in four newspapers on Monday. Denmark has taken a stricter stance on immigration since the center-right Liberal Party formed a minority government in June. While Germany and Sweden have embraced larger numbers of refugees over the past year, Denmark has cut back, imposing laws designed to discourage migrants from traveling to the country, including a severe cut to the benefits offered to refugees.

Instructor at Harris-Stowe gets almost $5 million in racial discrimination suit [Koran Addo on The St. Louis Post-Dispatch] (11/3/15)

A St. Louis Circuit Court jury has awarded a former Harris-Stowe State University instructor $4.85 million after finding that the historically black university discriminated against the instructor because she is white. The suit, filed in 2012, zeroes in on one particular administrator, accusing her of subscribing to the “Black Power” mantra and working systematically to purge Harris-Stowe’s College of Education of white faculty. The Missouri attorney general’s office, which represented Harris-Stowe, declined to comment on the verdict.

Curiously Strong Remains:


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