Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 2nd, 2017

President Trump should settle the “inciting to violence” lawsuit, explains Lawfare article

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Paul Rosenzweig has an interesting post in Lawfare:

In the normal course of Lawfare, a civil lawsuit in Kentucky would not seem to implicate national security.  But when one of the defendants is the President of the United States, well …. I suppose everything related to him is of potential national security interest.  Hence, the need to at least consider the implications of this stunning decision from a Federal district court in Kentucky, refusing to dismiss a lawsuit against President Trump.  The suit alleges that protesters at a Trump rally were assaulted and that then-Candidate Trump’s repeated exhortation to “get ’em out of here” was a direct and proximate cause of the violence.  In other words, the President is accused of inciting violence against his political opponents.  Some thoughts:

First, we should not read too much factual conclusion into this decision.  It was the denial of a motion to dismiss on the pleadings and in that posture the judge was bound to assume all the alleged facts were true and to draw every reasonable inference in favor of the plaintiffs.  It remains to be determined at a later date whether, for example, “get ’em out of here” was actually an exhortation to violence, or perhaps simply a direction to staff to remove disrupting individuals.  If I were Trump’s attorney I would certainly be making the latter argument.  Which interpretation is better founded remains to be seen as facts are further developed.

Second, speaking of factual development, I can see no way in which President Trump avoids a deposition in this matter.  We know from Clinton v. Jones that Presidents are not immune from civil discovery during their presidency.  And I have to think that Trump’s state of mind and intention are fair game for inquiry.  And we know, from past experience, that it is often enticing for a President to “gild the lily” in his testimony — which carries with it, its own risk of accusations of perjury.

Third, context is everything.  Though President Trump will argue that his words were not an incitement to violence, that argument may be rebutted by evidence relating to prior bad acts (known as 404(b) evidence).  I would expect plaintiffs to contend that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2017 at 9:12 pm

Resumed Covey planning today

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With Covey’s approach, Sunday is the day you review mission statement and roles, decide on the priorities for the coming week based on your roles and goals—one or two activities per week in pursuit of a goal creates surprisingly good progress—and schedules appointments for each activity: the specific day and time that you will do a task in furtherance of one of your priorities. It’s important to schedule those first so that you lock in the time commitment, and it’s best to favor the beginning of the week so you can reschedule if necessary.

This was my first time using The Simple Elephant Planner, so naturally enough it felt awkward, but I imagine by the end of this month I will have developed a routine. And I noticed that, even on this first outing, scheduling the activities reminded me of a couple of additional activities to schedule.

The Simple Elephant has 12 blank months, 52 blank weeks, and about 60 blank pages for notes (a journal, mission statement, lessons learned, whatever). You write in the year, month, and date, so you can start it at any point in the year. I picked 1 April, when I worked a bit on the mission statement and entered the dates for April and the coming week. Today, being Sunday, I plan the coming week. TSE has three bookmark ribbons: one for the current month, one for the current week, and one for the current spot in the notes.

I think this will help a lot in getting things done. (And Getting Things Done, David Allen’s approach, is another method that I’ve heard is good, but I’ve had good experience using Covey’s method, so that’s what I’m going with for now.)

References:

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (inexpensive secondhand copies)

Outline PDF) to assist with reading the book, which is occasionally unclear. You can read the outline before reading the book or as you read the book, but do read the book: the outline is incomplete.

Bloom Weekly Planner pad is a non-book approach: you tear off the blank week page and fill it out for the coming week. Obviously, you can start any week.

Weekplan.net is an on-line Covey planner but I found it the opposite of intuitive and, for me, clumsier than a planner like The Simple Elephant or the Bloom Weekly Planner.

I’m reminded of a story about Mark Van Doren when he was teaching philosophy at Columbia University. He taught one course devoted to Plato’s Republic, a long and intricate book—so much so that quite a few students shared an outline summary of the Republic.

Came the final. Professor Van Doren handed out a copy of that very outline to each student and then wrote on the blackboard the final, which was one item: “Describe the ways in which this outline is incomplete and misleading.”

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2017 at 7:40 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

How Uber Uses Psychological Tricks to Push Its Drivers’ Buttons

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Norm Scheiber reports in the NY Times:

The secretive ride-hailing giant Uber rarely discusses internal matters in public. But in March, facing crises on multiple fronts, top officials convened a call for reporters to insist that Uber was changing its culture and would no longer tolerate “brilliant jerks.”

Notably, the company also announced that it would fix its troubled relationship with drivers, who have complained for years about falling pay and arbitrary treatment.

“We’ve underinvested in the driver experience,” a senior official said. “We are now re-examining everything we do in order to rebuild that love.”

And yet even as Uber talks up its determination to treat drivers more humanely, it is engaged in an extraordinary behind-the-scenes experiment in behavioral science to manipulate them in the service of its corporate growth — an effort whose dimensions became evident in interviews with several dozen current and former Uber officials, drivers and social scientists, as well as a review of behavioral research.

Uber’s innovations reflect the changing ways companies are managing workers amid the rise of the freelance-based “gig economy.” Its drivers are officially independent business owners rather than traditional employees with set schedules. This allows Uber to minimize labor costs, but means it cannot compel drivers to show up at a specific place and time. And this lack of control can wreak havoc on a service whose goal is to seamlessly transport passengers whenever and wherever they want.

Uber helps solve this fundamental problem by using psychological inducements and other techniques unearthed by social science to influence when, where and how long drivers work. It’s a quest for a perfectly efficient system: a balance between rider demand and driver supply at the lowest cost to passengers and the company.

Employing hundreds of social scientists and data scientists, Uber has experimented with video game techniques, graphics and noncash rewards of little value that can prod drivers into working longer and harder — and sometimes at hours and locations that are less lucrative for them. . . .

Continue reading.

Do read the whole thing. We’re going to be seeing more corporations who use behavioral science to control their employees, I believe; they’ve been using everything they can on customers, and now employees are being targeted.

The simulations in the article are interesting. For example,

The article shows clearly why Uber workers should unionize.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2017 at 6:39 pm

The government’s struggle to hold opioid manufacturers accountable

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The DEA is keen to bust marijuana users (even patients), but is helpless when it comes to a real menace. Lenny Bernstein and Scot Higham report in the Washington Post:

To combat an escalating opioid epidemic, the Drug Enforcement Administration trained its sights in 2011 on Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of the highly addictive generic painkiller oxycodone.

It was the first time the DEA had targeted a manufacturer of opioids for alleged violations of laws designed to prevent diversion of legal narcotics to the black market. And it would become the largest prescription-drug case the agency has pursued.

Ultimately, the DEA and federal prosecutors would contend that the company ignored its responsibility to report suspicious orders as 500 million of its pills ended up in Florida between 2008 and 2012 — 66 percent of all oxycodone sold in the state. Government investigators alleged in internal documents that the company’s lack of due diligence could have resulted in nearly 44,000 federal violations and exposed it to $2.3 billion in fines, according to confidential government records and emails obtained by The Washington Post.

But six years later, after four investigations that spanned five states, the government has taken no legal action against Mallinckrodt. Instead, the company has reached a tentative settlement with federal prosecutors, according to sources familiar with the discussions. Under the proposal, which remains confidential, Mallinckrodt would agree to pay a $35 million fine and admit no wrongdoing.

“Mallinckrodt’s response was that ­‘everyone knew what was going on in Florida but they had no duty to report it,’ ” according to an internal summary of the case prepared by federal prosecutors and obtained by The Post.

The case shows how difficult it is for the government to hold a drug manufacturer responsible for the damage done by its product. DEA investigators appalled by rising overdose deaths said they worked for years to build the biggest case of their careers only to watch it falter on uncertain legal territory and in the face of stiff resistance from the company.

“They just weren’t taking this seriously, and people were dying,” said a former law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case is pending. “People were dying all over the place. It wasn’t their kids, their wives, their husbands, their brothers. It was some hillbilly in Central Florida, so who cares?”

In a statement, a Mallinckrodt spokesman said the company has worked hard to fight drug diversion.

“Mallinckrodt has long been a recognized leader in developing and sharing best practices related to the prevention of opioid diversion and misuse, and has continuously invested significant resources to address this serious drug epidemic,” the statement said. “We are proud of the programs and initiatives we’ve developed to ensure appropriate use of pain medication and, most importantly, to deter such medications from ending up in the wrong hands.”

Officials at the DEA declined to comment for this article. The U.S. attorney’s office in Detroit, which is handling the case, issued a statement. “Our office works diligently to use all the legal tools available to us to hold corporations responsible for their actions,” acting U.S. attorney Daniel Lemisch said. “This is particularly true in a highly regulated industry such as the manufacture of opioids. As this case is still in settlement negotiations, we cannot comment on the specifics of the matter.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2017 at 6:20 pm

LA Times Editorial Board: “Our Dishonest President”

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The LA Times editorial today is the first of a four-part series, with the next three parts slated for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Today’s begins:

It was no secret during the campaign that Donald Trump was a narcissist and a demagogue who used fear and dishonesty to appeal to the worst in American voters. The Times called him unprepared and unsuited for the job he was seeking, and said his election would be a “catastrophe.”

Still, nothing prepared us for the magnitude of this train wreck. Like millions of other Americans, we clung to a slim hope that the new president would turn out to be all noise and bluster, or that the people around him in the White House would act as a check on his worst instincts, or that he would be sobered and transformed by the awesome responsibilities of office.

Instead, seventy-some days in — and with about 1,400 to go before his term is completed — it is increasingly clear that those hopes were misplaced.

In a matter of weeks, President Trump has taken dozens of real-life steps that, if they are not reversed, will rip families apart, foul rivers and pollute the air, intensify the calamitous effects of climate change and profoundly weaken the system of American public education for all.

His attempt to de-insure millions of people who had finally received healthcare coverage and, along the way, enact a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich has been put on hold for the moment. But he is proceeding with his efforts to defang the government’s regulatory agencies and bloat the Pentagon’s budget even as he supposedly retreats from the global stage.

These are immensely dangerous developments which threaten to weaken this country’s moral standing in the world, imperil the planet and reverse years of slow but steady gains by marginalized or impoverished Americans. But, chilling as they are, these radically wrongheaded policy choices are not, in fact, the most frightening aspect of the Trump presidency.

What is most worrisome about Trump is Trump himself. He is a man so unpredictable, so reckless, so petulant, so full of blind self-regard, so untethered to reality that it is impossible to know where his presidency will lead or how much damage he will do to our nation. His obsession with his own fame, wealth and success, his determination to vanquish enemies real and imagined, his craving for adulation — these traits were, of course, at the very heart of his scorched-earth outsider campaign; indeed, some of them helped get him elected. But in a real presidency in which he wields unimaginable power, they are nothing short of disastrous.

Although his policies are, for the most part, variations on classic Republican positions (many of which would have been undertaken by a President Ted Cruz or a President Marco Rubio), they become far more dangerous in the hands of this imprudent and erratic man. Many Republicans, for instance, support tighter border security and a tougher response to illegal immigration, but Trump’s cockamamie border wall, his impracticable campaign promise to deport all 11 million people living in the country illegally and his blithe disregard for the effect of such proposals on the U.S. relationship with Mexico turn a very bad policy into an appalling one.


In the days ahead, The Times editorial board will look more closely at the new president, with a special attention to three troubling traits:

Trump’s shocking lack of respect for those fundamental rules and institutions on which our government is based. Since Jan. 20, he has repeatedly disparaged and challenged those entities that have threatened his agenda, stoking public distrust of essential institutions in a way that undermines faith in American democracy. He has questioned the qualifications of judges and the integrity of their decisions, rather than acknowledging that even the president must submit to the rule of law. He has clashed with his own intelligence agencies, demeaned government workers and questioned the credibility of the electoral system and the Federal Reserve. He has lashed out at journalists, declaring them “enemies of the people,” rather than defending the importance of a critical, independent free press. His contempt for the rule of law and the norms of government are palpable.

His utter lack of regard for truth. . .

Continue reading. And there’s quite a bit more following the summary of the three upcoming articles.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2017 at 1:19 pm

Trump’s new Russia expert wrote a psychological profile of Vladimir Putin — and it should scare Trump

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Carlos Lazada has an interesting book review (or, perhaps more accurately, an interesting-book review) in the Washington Post:

MR. PUTIN: Operative in the Kremlin
By Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy
Brookings Institution Press. 533 pp. $32

Remember the unverified “dossier” assembled by a shadowy foreign intelligence veteran who alleged all manner of nefarious, kinky and compromising ties between Donald Trump and Russia? Well, now the Trump team has its own dossier on Russian President Vladimir Putin. It’s better sourced, convincingly written, damning in its conclusions — and its author is scheduled to start working at the White House on Monday.

Fiona Hill, the incoming senior director for Russia and Europe on President Trump’s National Security Council staff, is the co-author of “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin,” essentially a 500-page psychological profile of the Russian leader, from his early KGB years through his rise and rule at the Kremlin. It’s hard to know who really runs U.S. foreign policy these days, but to the extent that Hill can influence the Trump administration’s views on Russia, this book suggests a more clear-eyed, realpolitik perspective on Putin’s intentions and capabilities, with low expectations for the rapprochement Trump imagined during the 2016 campaign. In this telling, Putin sees the United States as a malicious, incompetent and disrespectful power, an obstacle in his relentless effort to restore and expand the might of the Russian state.

His own might, too, of course. The greatness of Mother Russia is his goal, but the power of Vladi­mir Putin is his means.

First published in 2013 and updated in 2015, the book breaks down Putin’s overlapping personas, showing how they shape his dominance at home and rivalries abroad. Hill and co-author Clifford G. Gaddy of the Brookings Institution list six identities that they think make up Putin’s “mental outlook, his worldview” — the Statist, the History Man, the Survivalist, the Outsider, the Free Marketeer and the Case Officer.

The last identity is especially relevant, because underlying everything in this book is a vision of Putin as manipulator — he is “a master at manipulating information, suppressing information, and creating pseudo-information” — and as extortionist, deploying blackmail against opponents, allies and (take note here, President Trump) foreign leaders. “As he can fully trust only himself,” Hill and Gaddy write, “Putin applies extortionary methods to everyone else — basically mutually assured incrimination to ensure loyalty.”

When the authors call Putin a “statist,” they do not imply an ideological vision of a command economy; they see no ideology in him at all. Putin regards Russia’s post-Soviet stumbles of the 1990s — beholden to the West, rudderless at home — as an unforgivable humiliation he must avenge. He declared himself a “servant of the state” in a 5,000-word manifesto he issued shortly before first reaching the presidency. “Putin pledged to rebuild the Russian state, protect Russia’s sovereignty, preserve domestic stability and unity, and ensure national security,” Hill and Gaddy recount. He did not, they note archly, explain how he would do so.

[Review of “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century” by Timothy Snyder]

The tools at his disposal include . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the review:

Putin is a Free Marketeer in sort of an “Art of the Deal” sense. “Capitalism, in Putin’s understanding, is not production, management, and marketing. It is wheeling and dealing. It is not about workers and customers. It is about personal connections with regulators. It is finding and using loopholes in the law.” For Putin, the economy is a “battlefield,” the authors write, and both as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg and later at the Kremlin, Putin “used methods of coercion” that relied on deep knowledge of the personal foibles and financial misdeeds of his opponents. Whether it was local politicians, foreign business leaders, or, say, former Ukrainian president Viktor Yunakovych, “the focus was on finding and using leverage.”

Here is the Case Officer. Because of his 15 years in the KGB, Putin is skilled in “studying the mind of the targets, finding their vulnerabilities, and figuring out how to use them.” This is how he has managed Russia’s oligarchs, the authors say, using their wealth — and their desire for more — against them.

[How an American slacker caught a Russian spy at a New Jersey Hooters]

“Money is ever-present in the system, but it is not money that guarantees loyalty or holds the top level together,” Hill and Gaddy explain. “Instead, it is the fact that the money derives from activity that is or could be found to be illegal. Participants in the system are not bought off in the classic sense of that term. They are compromised; they are made vulnerable to threats. . . . Corrupt, even illegal, activity will be kept secret as long as the individual continues to play the game.” And the referee and star player is Putin himself. This is not an old-boy network, but a “one-boy network.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2017 at 12:56 pm

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