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Archive for August 16th, 2018

Nico Walker is a convicted bank robber. ‘Cherry’ proves he’s also a must-read author.

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Ron Charles, editor of the Washington Post Book World writes:

You won’t hear Nico Walker on a book tour anytime soon because he’s serving two more years in prison for bank robbery. But don’t wait to pick up his lacerating new novel about the horrors of war and addiction. “Cherry” is a miracle of literary serendipity, a triumph born of gore and suffering that reads as if it’s been scratched out with a dirty needle across the tender skin of a man’s forearm.
The story of how this autobiographical novel evolved is almost as remarkable as the story of how its debut author survived. In 2005 and 2006, Walker served as an Army medic in Iraq, where he was commended for valor and saw many of his buddies blown to pieces. Returning to civilian life depressed and traumatized, he became addicted to heroin, a habit he funded with extravagant success by robbing 10 banks in four months.
In 2013, when Walker was behind bars in the Federal Correctional Institution in Ashland, Ky., his journey from hero to thief became the subject of a harrowing profile in BuzzFeed. One of many people struck by that story was Matthew Johnson, a publisher at the independent press Tyrant Books. Fascinated by the historical tradition of war vets taking up bank robbery, Johnson sent Walker books and encouraged him to write about his life. Eventually, through one of those wildly circuitous trajectories that make up the map of literary history, Walker’s disheveled manuscript ended up at Alfred A. Knopf, the nation’s most prestigious publishing house.
In a gracious and unusually detailed acknowledgment at the end of “Cherry,” Walker credits Tim O’Connell, his editor at Knopf, with transforming those typewritten pages into this tour de force. But when I contacted O’Connell, he claimed he did nothing but edit Walker’s manuscript as usual. “It is the fruit of his hard work and remarkable natural talents,” O’Connell said, “especially his voice, which is unlike any other. Nico simply poured everything he had into it.”
That sounds right — and true to the searing authenticity of this novel, which tries to answer the question, “How do you get to be a scumbag?” But in the process of laying out the road to perdition, Walker demonstrates the depths of his humanity and challenges us to bridge the distance that we imagine separates us from the damned.

We meet the unnamed narrator in 2003 when he’s a listless college student raised by a nice middle-class family. From the start, his tone is one of mournful candor with a trace of straight-faced wit. “I sold drugs but it wasn’t like I was bad or anything,” he says. “I wasn’t bothering anybody; I didn’t even eat meat. I had a job at the shoe store. Another mistake I made. No interest whatsoever in shoes. I was marked for failure.”
With the same rueful smirk, he enlists in the Army “because I’d been saying I would.” The inane tests, the screaming sergeants, the empty slogans — none of it impresses him. “You just had to remember it was all make-believe,” he says. “We were pretending to be soldiers. The Army was pretending to be the Army.”
But there’s nothing make-believe about the blood that’s soon gushing across these pages. As an Army medic, he goes on missions that are vaguely explained, often impromptu, frequently disastrous. His fellow soldiers are regularly called upon to brutalize the local people. The Iraqis, for their part, are experts at planting IEDs in the roads. “I was supposed to pretend to be some kind of great healer,” the narrator says, but his medical expertise rarely involves more than scraping up bits of his friends and zipping them in bags. “I was not a hero,” he says.
Of course, we’ve heard these stories before, in superb fiction and nonfiction by other soldiers. But Walker, 33, brings a raw and casual brutality to the narrative of battle. His rambling collection of chaotic anecdotes involve drugs and porn, acts of cruelty and kindness, unending boredom pierced by spikes of terror. These juxtapositions convey the fundamental disorder of the American mission and its deleterious effect on the young people forced to implement it. His language, relentlessly profane but never angry, simmers at the level of morose disappointment, something like Holden Caulfield Goes to War: “I’m glad I missed the battle because it was probably bulls— and the Army just murdered your dog anyway.”
But Walker also channels an even older novelist who saw the carnage of war. His prose echoes Ernest Hemingway’s cadences to powerful effect like this: “By the time it was fall you could tell we were all a little off. In that state none of us could have passed in polite society; those of us who’d been kicking in doors and tearing houses up and shooting people, we were psychotic. And we were ready for it to end. There was nothing interesting about it anymore. There was nothing.”
Ironically, that sense of sliding into the abyss accelerates when . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2018 at 8:43 pm

Posted in Books, Iraq War

Genetics: How to Edit a Human

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Tom Whipple writes in 1843 Magazine:

This story begins nearly four billion years ago, when the Earth was just another rock in just another solar system. In a pool of sludge on that rock, something astonishing happened. A long stringy molecule found a way to copy itself. Similar molecules would later carry the code that would enable life forms to grow, digest, run, breathe, read, launch rockets to the Moon. But for now, that molecule only knew how to do a single, important thing – to reproduce. This was the moment that life emerged.

Since then, as each living organism has multiplied, the codes of life have altered by the tiniest increments generation after generation, stretching across time. Most of these mutations have had little impact. Very, very occasionally, they have been extraordinarily useful. The sum of millions of minuscule modifications over billions of generations has given some organisms the ability to survive in water, land, ice or the desert. They have helped them to beat disease, to be stronger, faster, fly.

Across the aeons of biological time, this process has led one particular organism – us – to grow large brains, develop opposable thumbs and communicate complex ideas. We’ve mastered fire, tools, technology. In the great span of evolution, this transformation happened a mere split second ago. Degree by degree we continue to change.

Six years ago a group of those highly evolved organisms worked out how to shrink evolutionary time. Scientists in laboratories on either side of the Atlantic discovered a way to manipulate the blind stumblings of random mutations. Through meticulous trial after trial and not a little fortune, they found a way to edit the code of life – to tweak the information that makes our eyes blue, muscles strong or IQs high. Humans had advanced so far that we were finally able to control our own evolution.

Jennifer Doudna, one of those scientists, was not the first to edit genes or genetically modify an organism. But the tool that her team discovered made a previously painstaking and expensive process simpler and usable by almost anyone. Entire PhDs were once spent changing a single gene to make one mutant mouse for research.

The eureka moment came in 2012. Doudna remembers the instant when she realised what she had found. She was in her office high above San Francisco bay and her postgraduate student, Martin Jinek, was at the whiteboard. “It was a beautiful California day. I was looking across and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge,” says Doudna, gesturing towards the window: “The sun was streaming in, Martin was writing at the whiteboard.” Stroke by stroke he began sketching a simplified version of a previously obscure molecular mechanism that bacteria use to fight infection.

The device had an ungainly name, CRISPR-Cas9. But realisation now dawned that its function was supremely elegant: it chopped up the DNA of invading viruses. What made that discovery important was that the tool could also be programmed to cut up DNA of any kind. Doudna’s team had worked out how to edit the genome of every living thing – even humans.

Sitting beside that same whiteboard now she finds it hard to convey the magnitude of that instant – she talks of chills going down her neck, of thinking “this is cool” – as it dawned on her that this could transform not only the lives of the scientists who uncovered it, but all of our lives.

Rarely, if ever, has a scientific tool spread as fast as the one they drew that day. It took a millennium for the mathematical concept of zero to be fully accepted in Europe. It took centuries for the first rudimentary microscopes to develop into something scientifically useful. Even the computer took decades to become a mainstay of offices and homes.

In just over five years, the new gene-editing mechanism that Doudna and her colleagues found has attained ubiquity in life-science laboratories. Other means of editing DNA already existed, but CRISPR was better and faster. Yet the speed of CRISPR’s dissemination represents a threat as well as a breakthrough. Anxious about the lack of control, Doudna convened a conference of 500 ethicists, scientists and lawyers in 2015 to consider all the apparently fantastical futures ushered in by the ability to tinker with the code of life. She wanted to set out rules and protocols before the technology was applied to humans.

Doudna was in for a shock. “One attendee [at the conference] pulled me aside and said three manuscripts had been submitted to journals involving experiments on human embryos. He said, ‘You should know this is happening.’” The labs in China had destroyed the embryos they had developed, and the modification had been only partial. Far sooner than predicted, a threshold had been crossed.

That moment in Doudna’s office came 60 years after James Watson and Francis Crick interrupted lunchtime at the Eagle pub in Cambridge with the words “We’ve discovered the meaning of life.” It was only slight hyperbole. They had revealed the structure of DNA, the alphabet in which the code of life was written.

That achievement was monumental. It was also, on its own, useless. Though they knew the letters, they didn’t know what they meant. They couldn’t read the code; they couldn’t write it.

Over subsequent decades genetics researchers have slowly built a DNA dictionary to explain what individual strings of code mean. First in bacteria, then in worms and eventually, in 2003, in humans, we have read full genomes and started piecing together the functions of DNA, the code that builds bodies, keeps them running and occasionally makes them fail. That achievement, too, has been monumental. But even when we can determine the exact mutation that led to a genetic disease, we can’t do anything about it. The search for a means to rewrite that code became the most pressing quest in genetics research.

Although no one realised it at the time, that journey was already under way. In 1987, almost unnoticed, a scientist in Japan spotted an oddity in the genome of a bacterium found in the human gut: a repeating sequence of genetic code, roughly palindromic, in the bacterium’s DNA. If you read along it, this code would appear in one section, then there would be an incomprehensible sequence of code, then it would appear again, and so on. The oddity was noted and the world moved on. The planet is not short of oddities.

Six years later a Spanish researcher spotted the same repeating structure in a microscopic organism from a different part of the living world. Since the common evolutionary ancestor of these two organisms came hundreds of millions of years earlier, it seemed significant that both had this structure. The oddity was upgraded to a curiosity.

For 20 years, that was where it remained. The sequence gained its awkward name: Clustered Regularly Interspersed Palindromic Repeats, or CRISPR (pronounced “crisper”). Slowly, we learned more about it. The first breakthrough in establishing the importance of CRISPR came when scientists identified the code that lies between the repeats. It turned out that these sequences appeared elsewhere too: in the genetic code of viruses that had attacked these microbes. Evolution doesn’t create such unlikely coincidences without a purpose.

There was a logical conclusion: microbes were storing the viral code to defend themselves against the viruses. CRISPR seemed to be not just a code but a tool, that both held crucial intelligence on bacteria’s viral enemies and used this intelligence to defeat them. That was when the curiosity became a business proposition – bacteria can be worth a lot of money. So the funding for the next step came from one of the world’s most famous bacteria farmers: Danone, a dairy company that boasts of the good bacteria in its products, and which every year lost cash, cheese and yogurt to viruses that attacked its bacteria.

Two research scientists at Danone began investigating how to use the matching parts of code found on bacteria and viruses to protect the good bacteria they wanted to foster. They found that a small proportion of bacteria were able to capture and store the DNA of invading viruses in their own genomes so that, when they were attacked again, they were essentially immune. Even more excitingly, when those resistant bacteria reproduced, the new bacteria were also protected. So the change wasn’t just a one-off sticking plaster that helped individual bacteria to survive: the immunity they acquired was genetic, and could be passed on to their offspring too.

Suddenly people realised that CRISPR might do more than make yogurt cheaper. Separately, in different labs across the world, groups of scientists started to think about whether this tool could be used to manipulate DNA of all kinds. The race to harness its powers began.

That was when Doudna joined the story. Many other scientists interested in CRISPR were experts on DNA – the genetic code in every cell. Doudna’s specialism was RNA, which helps DNA translate that code into something usable. Seeing the structure of RNA is hard. Imagine if all you knew about the Eiffel tower came from its shadow at different times of day. Then imagine forming an image of it using just that information, with every strut and platform in place. This type of work has been Doudna life’s pursuit: trying to construct a model of molecules from scatterings left by x-rays or the products left behind as they break down.

Dounda would probably have continued happily on her academic path of quiet distinction were it not for a telephone call one afternoon in 2006 from across the campus at the University of California, Berkeley. Jill Banfield was unusual among CRISPR scientists because she wasn’t interested in its application to humans. She wanted to understand what microbes do with it: for over a decade she has been searching for it in organisms in extreme environments underground, in the heat of geysers, even in slurry ponds at a dairy farm. Banfield needed an expert on RNA, so she began looking on the university intranet for resident RNA experts: “I saw Jennifer’s name, and contacted her.” That phone call marked the first time Doudna had ever heard of CRISPR (later she admitted that she thought it was spelt “crisper”).

By this stage, laboratories around the world were trying to uncover how CRISPR could be used to edit a gene. In Lithuania, Virginijus Siksnys was one of the acknowledged leaders. His laboratory had treated CRISPR like an app, showing how its DNA sequence could be taken from one bacteria and “installed” in another, where it worked perfectly to protect the organism. In the race to discover how to use CRISPR to alter the genome, his laboratory and Doudna’s would eventually come near to a dead heat. “Race” is not quite the right word, though: at this point neither knew for certain where the finish line was.

The first step in determining what CRISPR could do was to break it down into its components, to see what role each part of the CRISPR code played. All DNA works by making proteins; CRISPR is no different. Understanding the function of each protein was the key to developing CRISPR into a deployable device. By generating those same proteins in bulk in the lab, scientists could start experimenting to see what they did.

CRISPR programmes a number of mechanisms, each named after the protein involved: Cas1, Cas2, Cas3, and so on. Slowly, Doudna’s laboratory went through each one to determine its function. Once again luck (and the backing of a wealthy institution) propelled Doudna to the next milestone. In 2011, at a conference in Puerto Rico, Doudna met Emmanuelle Charpentier, a French scientist who was looking at a CRISPR protein called Cas9 that Doudna hadn’t yet considered. Charpentier needed a biologist to look at its structure.

Charpentier approached two colleagues in Vienna. “One did not have enough manpower, the other not enough money,” says Charpentier. “Life is sometimes unfair.” She recently spoke to one of the scientists who turned her down. “He still thinks of this. He was very much affected.” As well he might be: he works in relative obscurity; Doudna and Charpentier are superstars.

Doudna’s lab had both people and dollars. Over the next year, separated by a continent, Doudna and Charpentier worked on cracking CRISPR’s codes. Their collaboration was professionally rather than personally close. Charpentier’s lab cultured and analysed bacteria to identify the genetic data that made up Cas9 and its function, and shipped that to America. Doudna’s team found a way to manufacture the protein in bulk, using genetically modified bacteria to pump it out and then separate it from the soup of other proteins. Their goal was to surmise how Cas9 cut up the DNA of invading viruses, and if it could be trained to do the same to any length of any DNA they chose – to edit any genome.

Some experiments to test Cas9 were disarmingly simple. “It’s a bit like cooking,” says Doudna. In one they took a few drops of a liquid containing the Cas9 protein, mixed it with a few drops of another liquid that included a protein that helped the molecular mechanism find its target, and added in some DNA to see the effect. Then they heated it up. During the heating process they would periodically take out samples to see if the DNA was changing size or being cut – Doudna moves her hands apart, like a fisherman describing a catch. More often than not, it was. The CRISPR system had gone in and snipped precisely the right section. That was the outcome they were after.

Charpentier speaks of that period in almost unworldly terms. At the time, she was based out of a university in Sweden. “There was either too much light or not enough light, which meant I was available at all times of the day.” Time differences were not a problem. “When we were writing the paper, it was March, April, May, June. You experience nights where you see only light and so you stay awake pretty much all night long. I would come from the lab at 3 in the morning and there would be full light.”

The excitement was heightened by growing certainty that other labs must be close behind, says Doudna. “Emmanuelle would work in the Californian night. I’d wake up in the morning and there would be a new draft of our article in my inbox. Then I’d work on it. We knew there was good reason to try to wrap it up and write it up as quickly as we could.”

Slowly, a picture of the Cas9 system emerged. In Doudna’s office today in Berkeley she has a model of it made out of 3D-printed plastic, the result of those final experiments that uncovered its structure. It sits on a table beside a Japanese katana sword, one of many gifts Doudna has since received on her travels. The model of the Cas9 targeting system looks like a Gordian knot of twisted molecules. She slowly pulls it apart with the patience of a teacher – she still has undergraduate students – demonstrating the section that locates the target DNA and the cleaver that chops it up.

It is that cleaver, Cas9, that is important. A katana of the genome, it carefully slices both sides of the target DNA, breaking the strand. Since DNA is good at repairing itself, the two loose ends of DNA can tie themselves back together, but without the lost code the virus is neutralised. That offered the possibility of a further leap: rather than merely remove part of the DNA, it might be possible to replace it with another strand. Then the DNA should still be able to stitch itself up again. To achieve that would be one miniscule change for a genome – and one giant step for genetics.

No wonder Doudna smiles so widely as she remembers the day when a year of experiments suddenly made sense.

Scientists sometimes complain that society still believes in the idea of the lone genius whose insight allowed him (it’s normally a man) to see further – even if modesty dictates that he says he did so by standing on the shoulders of giants. In this narrative, you forget about the other people in the laboratory, other teams developing the science or working in parallel. No one ever asks a whole laboratory to give a keynote address. TED talks are not delivered by committee.

Doudna is meticulous about attributing credit. There were six authors on the breakthrough paper. She notes that her postgraduate students did much of the lab work. Hundreds developed the field to enable the final discovery. Like the 15 members of the 1953 Everest expedition, all had parts to play. We already know, too, that Doudna’s involvement was not once but twice a matter of chance and money. Yet Charpentier and Doudna are the ones who finally got to the top, the Hillary and Tenzing of CRISPR. They are the ones who get the plaudits, the international speaking engagements, and the prizes. When the Nobel committee gets around to awarding for CRISPR, as it surely will in time, it will only ever be able to honour three people at most. Two places are taken. The others will forever be at the Everest base camp of science, watching their colleagues disappear into the clouds.

What, though, if when Hillary and Tenzing had arrived at the summit to find that someone had already reached it but hadn’t got the message home yet? That type of luck is more awkward. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2018 at 3:19 pm

This Company Keeps Lies About Sandy Hook on the Web

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Sapna Maheshwari and John Herrman report in the NY Times:

Leonard Pozner says he spends hours every day trying to erase online conspiracy theories that the death of his 6-year-old son Noah at the Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax.

He has taken Alex Jones of Infowars, by far the most visible Sandy Hook denier, to court. He has put pressure on major tech companies to take action against the conspiracy theorists who flourish on their platforms.

But the bulk of his work is more methodical. Sandy Hook conspiracies are strewn around the internet on various platforms, each with its own opaque rules and reporting mechanisms. So Mr. Pozner has studiously flagged countless videos and posts for a wide variety of offenses — invasions of privacy, threats and harassment, and copyright infringement — prompting Facebook, Amazon and Google to remove false material about his son.

Twitter has been less receptive to his claims and some smaller sites have simply not responded at all. But one company, Mr. Pozner says, has actively pushed back against his attempts.

WordPress.com, one the internet’s biggest blogging platforms, is operated by a company called Automattic, which also runs a wide array of smaller sites and internet services. Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists have been able to remain on WordPress.com thanks, in part, to policies put in place to resist previous campaigns to get content removed from its service, particularly through the strategic use of copyright claims.

“Posting conspiracy theories or untrue content is not banned from WordPress.com, and unfortunately this is one of those situations,” Automattic said in a statement. “It is a truly awful situation, and we are sympathetic to the Pozner family.”

Last week, Apple, Facebook and Google’s YouTube removed videos and podcasts from Mr. Jones and Infowars, the conspiracy site he created, from their platforms. Facebook, after fielding criticism about its decision, wrote a blog post about its commitment to free expression and the difficult questions it faces in allowing “baseless conspiracy theories” and other offensive material on its sites. Twitter, like WordPress.com, has allowed the content to remain.

These debates have put tech companies into a sort of existential crisis. But for Mr. Pozner and others like him, the arguments have long been much more personal, as they struggle with images of family members being repurposed in horrifying new ways and experience harassment themselves because of misinformation online.

“The only items that concern me is when his image is being used in a negative, ugly way — denying the tragedy, calling him a crisis actor and everything else that the typical global village idiot on the net does,” Mr. Pozner said.

In the absence of uniform online policies about hoaxes, Mr. Pozner’s most effective tool has been filing copyright claims on images of Noah. He has filed such claims with Automattic about photos of Noah appearing on posts that labeled him a “crisis actor” who had been spotted in Pakistan after Sandy Hook and others that claimed he was a “fiction” and that photos of him were created using images of his older half brother.

Automattic has repeatedly responded to Mr. Pozner with form letters saying “because we believe this to be fair use of the material, we will not be removing it at this time.” The letters explain that fair use could include “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.” They also warn that the company could collect damages from people who “knowingly materially misrepresent” copyrights.

“The responses from their support people are very automated, very generic, very cold and there’s just no getting through to them,” Mr. Pozner said.

“They have taken this incorrect interpretation of freedom of speech to an extreme,” he added. “The only thing WordPress has taken out — and where I’ve been successful — is if someone posts personal information like my driver’s license or address.”

Automattic said that the responses Mr. Pozner received were “a predefined statement” that is used in copyright situations. “We regret that it was used in this situation,” the company said. “We offer our apologies to the family for the response we gave to them.”

Mr. Pozner’s complaints appear to have been thwarted in part by longtime policies at Automattic intended to prevent the use of copyright claims to censor criticism and journalism on its platform. The responses sent to Mr. Pozner included a link to a post from 2013 describing the company’s efforts to deal with spurious but effective copyright claims. The post also highlighted that the company had filed suit against two particularly egregious offenders in an effort to “fight back” on behalf of people who were posting material on the platform.

Online platforms are not held liable for copyright infringement claims against people who use their platforms as long as they remove or block access to content in response to the claims. This is crucial to the function of any website where people can post content, and internet companies have traditionally tended to err on the side of removal, even when claims may be dubious. This has created opportunities for abuse, and Automattic has made fighting that a corporate cause.

The company created a “Hall of Shame” to call out businesses and people filing notices for frivolous reasons or to tamp down negative news coverage. (The New York Times Company is an investor in Automattic.)

For years, Automattic’s strident response to copyright abuse earned praise from digital rights advocates. Now, this approach has effectively lumped in Mr. Pozner with the abusers. “Strictly from a copyright perspective, WordPress.com’s response is outside the norm,” said Tom Rubin, a lecturer at Stanford Law School who oversaw Microsoft’s copyright group and takedown process for 15 years.

“They avoid getting involved because fair-use determinations are notoriously complex and fact specific,” Mr. Rubin said of online platforms. “Platforms would rather eliminate their own potential liability by taking the content down and leaving it to the parties to battle amongst themselves in court.”

Matt Mullenweg, the chief executive of Automattic, suggested in a recent interview with Recode that the company was confronting misinformation. “For things that we host and run and provide our kind of company backing to, implicitly through hosting it, we do avoid hate speech,” he said. He added that “egregiously fake or harmful things — we’re pretty good at getting off the system.”

In the case of Mr. Pozner, however, Automattic suggested that its approach was imperfect. “While our policies have many benefits to free expression for those who use our platform, our system like many others that operate at large scale, is not ideal for getting to the deeper context of a given request,” the company said in a statement. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2018 at 11:07 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Law

How to Cure Corporate America’s Selfishness

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David Dayen has an interesting article in the New Republic:

Corporations have always been “creatures of the State,” as Teddy Roosevelt once called them. But they have become a kind of Frankenstein’s monster, unmoored from their creators to wreak havoc on the countryside. Corporations no longer consider the broad public interest in making decisions, nor do they worry that the state will ever revoke their license to operate. They only consider the desires of their shareholders, which has led to record corporate profitsstagnant wages, soaring inequality, and a shrinking middle class.

On Wednesday, Senator Elizabeth Warren proposed a counterweight to this relatively recent phenomenon in American business. Her bill, the Accountable Capitalism Act, revolves around a simple idea: The government would grant corporations the right to exist through a public charter, and could use that power to put obligations on corporations to benefit the broader public rather than a small handful of shareholders.

A federal corporate charter, required for all companies with over $1 billion in annual revenue, would be granted through a new Office of United States Corporations in the Commerce Department. The charter could be revoked if corporations didn’t follow its rules, including engaging in “repeated and egregious illegal conduct.” Shareholders could also sue companies for charter violations. “For the past 30 years we have put the American stamp of approval on giant corporations, even as they have ignored the interests of all but a tiny slice of Americans,” Warren wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed announcing the bill. “We should insist on a new deal.”

I’ve argued previously that the corporate charter can be a powerful tool against recidivist corporate lawbreakers who continually harm the public. But charters are primarily conferred at the state level, and states haven’t really enforced them, worried about losing corporate tax revenue. A federal charter short-circuits that fear, and establishes a set of common, enforceable standards of corporate conduct.

Under the federal charter, companies would be required to consider the interests of workers, customers, communities, and society before making major decisions. Employees would elect at least 40 percent of all company directors, giving them representation on corporate boards. That would involve worker representatives in decisions like whether to engage in political spending, which would require sign-off from 75 percent of all directors and shareholders. Finally, executives who receive shares of stock as compensation would have to hold them for at least five years.

Warren is using a variety of strategies to attack shareholder value theory, the way capitalism has been practiced in America since the 1980s. Free market evangelist Milton Friedman created this theory, eliminating what had been a much broader conception of corporate social responsibility. According to Friedman, companies have a duty to act in the sole interests of their shareholders. And shareholders have the overriding goal of increasing the value of their investment.

As the late Cornell professor Lynn Stout explained in her book The Shareholder Value Myth, Friedman’s concept rested on the legal error that only shareholders are stakeholders in a company. But it gradually became the standard in business, and the source of all kinds of perversions of capitalism.

Keeping down worker wages, busting unions, and outsourcing jobs to low-wage countries are all seen as beneficial because a higher percentage of profits goes to the firm. Stock buybacks and other financial engineering have funneled those profits outthrough the capital markets; as Warren notes, “between 2007 and 2016, large American companies dedicated 93 percent of their earnings to shareholders.” Because over 80 percent of all stock is held by 10 percent of the population, inequality has soared. Passive income, which confers a lower tax rate, requires only having money to make money. Most CEO compensation comes in the form of stock, creating powerful incentives to goose the stock price. Corporations spend heavily to influence government to change laws and soften regulations that reduce potential profits, out of an obligation to shareholders.

In short, if corporations are people, shareholder value theory requires them to operate like psychopaths, pursuing only cash and bulldozing any obstacle in their path. A sense of ethics or responsibility to other citizens is disallowed in this framework.

Warren’s agenda would break the tyranny of shareholder value. Giving companies a duty to other stakeholders would force them to consider more than maximizing stock returns. Worker representatives on corporate boards would make the decision-making process far more democratic. Throwing sand in the gears of financial engineering—in addition to the five-year hold on executive stock sales, there would be a three-year lag after any buyback—would discourage both the leaking out of corporate profits to investors and the payment of executive compensation in stock.

There’s proven evidence that this model of corporate governance can work. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2018 at 10:58 am

Rooney Style 1 Size 1, La Toja shave stick, iKon Short Comb on Wolfman handle

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Excellent lather, thanks to the Rooney and the La Toja shave stick. The iKon Shavecraft Short Comb is not so comfortable for me as the regular (stainless) iKon open-comb, but it did a good job with just one small nick. A splash of La Toja aftershave and the day is launched.

Somehow didn’t feel like walking this morning—did a block and came back. Perhaps I’ll go out later, or just take a rest day.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2018 at 9:17 am

Posted in Shaving

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