Later On

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Archive for February 7th, 2019

Why Girls Beat Boys at School and Lose to Them at the Office

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Very interesting column in the NY Times by Lisa Damour, a clinical psychologist:

From elementary school through college, girls are more disciplinedabout their schoolwork than boys; they study harder and get better grades. Girls consistently outperform boys academically. And yet, men nonetheless hold a staggering 95 percent of the top positions in the largest public companies.

What if those same habits that propel girls to the top of their class — their hyper-conscientiousness about schoolwork — also hold them back in the work force?

When investigating what deters professional advancement for women, the journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman found that a shortage of competence is less likely to be an obstacle than a shortage of confidence. When it comes to work-related confidence, they found men are far ahead. “Underqualified and underprepared men don’t think twice about leaning in,” they wrote. “Overqualified and overprepared, too many women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect.”

As a psychologist who works with teenagers, I hear this concern often from the parents of many of my patients. They routinely remark that their sons do just enough to keep the adults off their backs, while their daughters relentlessly grind, determined to leave no room for error. The girls don’t stop until they’ve polished each assignment to a high shine and rewritten their notes with color-coded precision.

We need to ask: What if school is a confidence factory for our sons, but only a competence factory for our daughters?

This possibility hit me when I was caring for an eighth grader in my practice. She got terrific grades but was feeling overwhelmed by school. Her brother, a ninth grader, had similarly excellent grades, but when I asked if he worked as hard as she did, she scoffed. If she worked on an assignment for an hour and got an A, she felt “safe” only if she spent a full hour on other assignments like it. Her brother, in contrast, flew through his work. When he brought home an A, she said, he felt “like a stud.” If his grades slipped a bit, he would take his effort up just a notch. But she never felt “safe” enough to ever put in less than maximum effort.

That experience — of succeeding in school while exerting minimal or moderate effort — is a potentially crucial one. It may help our sons develop confidence, as they see how much they can accomplish simply by counting on their wits. For them, school serves as a test track, where they build their belief in their abilities and grow increasingly at ease relying on them. Our daughters, on the other hand, may miss the chance to gain confidence in their abilities if they always count on intellectual elbow grease alone.

So how do we get hyper-conscientious girls (and boys, as there certainly are some with the same style) to build both confidence and competence at school?

First, parents and teachers can stop praising inefficient overwork, even if it results in good grades. Gendered approaches to learning set in early, so it’s never too soon to start working against them. Recently, as I read “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” to my 8-year-old daughter, I stopped at a passage in which Hermione — the fictional poster child for academic fastidiousness — turned in an essay that was “two rolls of parchment more than Professor Binns asked for.” Hermione, I pointed out, doesn’t make great use of her time. She’s a capable student and could probably do just as well without working so hard. “Right,” my daughter said. “Of course she could!”

We can also encourage girls toward a different approach to school — one that’s more focused on economy of effort, rather than how many hours they put in. Whenever one of the academically impressive and persistently anxious girls in my practice tells me about staying up until 2 in the morning studying, I see an opening. That’s the moment to push them to become tactical, to figure out how to continue learning and getting the same grades while doing a little bit less. I urge my patients — and my own teenage daughter — to begin study sessions by taking sample tests, to see how much they know before figuring out how much more they need to do to attain mastery over a concept or task. Many girls build up an incredible capacity for work, but they need these moments to discover and take pride in how much they already understand.

Teachers, too, can challenge girls’ over-the-top tendencies. When a girl with a high-A average turns in extra credit work, her instructor might ask if she is truly taken with the subject or if she is looking to store up “insurance points,” as some girls call them. If it’s the former, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2019 at 7:11 pm

Many popular iPhone apps secretly record your screen without asking. And there’s no way a user would know

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We need a strong Democratic Congress to crack down on Big Tech. Zack Whittaker writes at Tech Crunch:

any major companies, like Air Canada, Hollister and Expedia, are recording every tap and swipe you make on their iPhone apps. In most cases you won’t even realize it. And they don’t need to ask for permission.

You can assume that most apps are collecting data on you. Some even monetize your data without your knowledge. But TechCrunch has found several popular iPhone apps, from hoteliers, travel sites, airlines, cell phone carriers, banks and financiers, that don’t ask or make it clear — if at all — that they know exactly how you’re using their apps.

Worse, even though these apps are meant to mask certain fields, some inadvertently expose sensitive data.

Apps like Abercrombie & Fitch, Hotels.com and Singapore Airlines also use Glassbox, a customer experience analytics firm, one of a handful of companies that allows developers to embed “session replay” technology into their apps. These session replays let app developers record the screen and play them back to see how its users interacted with the app to figure out if something didn’t work or if there was an error. Every tap, button push and keyboard entry is recorded — effectively screenshotted — and sent back to the app developers.

Or, as Glassbox said in a recent tweet: “Imagine if your website or mobile app could see exactly what your customers do in real time, and why they did it?”

The App Analyst, a mobile expert who writes about his analyses of popular apps on his eponymous blog, recently found Air Canada’s iPhone app wasn’t properly masking the session replays when they were sent, exposing passport numbers and credit card data in each replay session. Just weeks earlier, Air Canada said its app had a data breach, exposing 20,000 profiles.

“This lets Air Canada employees — and anyone else capable of accessing the screenshot database — see unencrypted credit card and password information,” he told TechCrunch.

We asked The App Analyst to look at a sample of apps that Glassbox had listed on its website as customers. Using Charles Proxy, a man-in-the-middle tool used to intercept the data sent from each app, the researcher could examine what data was going out of the device.

Not every app was leaking masked data; none of the apps we examined said they were recording a user’s screen — let alone sending them back to each company or directly to Glassbox’s cloud.

That could be a problem if any one of Glassbox’s customers aren’t properly masking data, he said in an email. “Since this data is often sent back to Glassbox servers I wouldn’t be shocked if they have already had instances of them capturing sensitive banking information and passwords,” he said.

The App Analyst said that while Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch sent their session replays to Glassbox, others like Expedia and Hotels.com opted to capture and send session replay data back to a server on their own domain. He said that the data was “mostly obfuscated,” but did see in some cases email addresses and postal codes. The researcher said Singapore Airlines also collected session replay data but sent it back to Glassbox’s cloud.

Without analyzing the data for each app, it’s impossible to know if an app is recording a user’s screens of how you’re using the app. We didn’t even find it in the small print of their privacy policies.

Apps that are submitted to Apple’s App Store must have a privacy policy, but none of the apps we reviewed make it clear in their policies that they record a user’s screen.  . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2019 at 6:24 pm

Russian-Style Kleptocracy Is Infiltrating America

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Franklin Foer writes in the Atlantic:

For two years, in the early 1990s, Richard Palmer served as the CIA station chief in the United States’ Moscow embassy. The events unfolding around him—the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the rise of Russia—were so chaotic, so traumatic and exhilarating, that they mostly eluded clearheaded analysis. But from all the intelligence that washed over his desk, Palmer acquired a crystalline understanding of the deeper narrative of those times.

Much of the rest of the world wanted to shout for joy about the trajectory of history, and how it pointed in the direction of free markets and liberal democracy. Palmer’s account of events in Russia, however, was pure bummer. In the fall of 1999, he testified before a congressional committee to disabuse members of Congress of their optimism and to warn them of what was to come.American officialdom, Palmer believed, had badly misjudged Russia. Washington had placed its faith in the new regime’s elites; it took them at their word when they professed their commitment to democratic capitalism. But Palmer had seen up close how the world’s growing interconnectedness—and global finance in particular—could be deployed for ill. During the Cold War, the KGB had developed an expert understanding of the banking byways of the West, and spymasters had become adept at dispensing cash to agents abroad. That proficiency facilitated the amassing of new fortunes. In the dying days of the U.S.S.R., Palmer had watched as his old adversaries in Soviet intelligence shoveled billions from the state treasury into private accounts across Europe and the U.S. It was one of history’s greatest heists.

Washington told itself a comforting story that minimized the importance of this outbreak of kleptomania: These were criminal outliers and rogue profiteers rushing to exploit the weakness of the new state. This narrative infuriated Palmer. He wanted to shake Congress into recognizing that the thieves were the very elites who presided over every corner of the system. “For the U.S. to be like Russia is today,” he explained to the House committee, “it would be necessary to have massive corruption by the majority of the members at Congress as well as by the Departments of Justice and Treasury, and agents of the FBI, CIA, DIA, IRS, Marshal Service, Border Patrol; state and local police officers; the Federal Reserve Bank; Supreme Court justices …” In his testimony, Palmer even mentioned Russia’s newly installed and little-known prime minister (whom he mistakenly referred to as Boris Putin), accusing him of “helping to loot Russia.”

The United States, Palmer made clear, had allowed itself to become an accomplice in this plunder. His assessment was unsparing. The West could have turned away this stolen cash; it could have stanched the outflow to shell companies and tax havens. Instead, Western banks waved Russian loot into their vaults. Palmer’s anger was intended to provoke a bout of introspection—and to fuel anxiety about the risk that rising kleptocracy posed to the West itself. After all, the Russians would have a strong interest in protecting their relocated assets. They would want to shield this wealth from moralizing American politicians who might clamor to seize it. Eighteen years before Special Counsel Robert Mueller began his investigation into foreign interference in a U.S. election, Palmer warned Congress about Russian “political donations to U.S. politicians and political parties to obtain influence.” What was at stake could well be systemic contagion: Russian values might infect and then weaken the moral defense systems of American politics and business.

This unillusioned spook was a prophet, and he spoke out at a hinge moment in the history of global corruption. America could not afford to delude itself into assuming that it would serve as the virtuous model, much less emerge as an untainted bystander. Yet when Yegor Gaidar, a reformist Russian prime minister in the earliest postcommunist days, asked the United States for help hunting down the billions that the KGB had carted away, the White House refused. “Capital flight is capital flight” was how one former CIA official summed up the American rationale for idly standing by. But this was capital flight on an unprecedented scale, and mere prologue to an era of rampant theft. When the Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman studied the problem in 2015, he found that 52 percent of Russia’s wealth resided outside the country.

The collapse of communism in the other post-Soviet states, along with China’s turn toward capitalism, only added to the kleptocratic fortunes that were hustled abroad for secret safekeeping. Officials around the world have always looted their countries’ coffers and accumulated bribes. But the globalization of banking made the export of their ill-gotten money far more convenient than it had been—which, of course, inspired more theft. By one estimate, more than $1 trillion now exits the world’s developing countries each year in the forms of laundered money and evaded taxes.

As in the Russian case, much of this plundered wealth finds its way to the United States. New YorkLos Angeles, and Miami have joined London as the world’s most desired destinations for laundered money. This boom has enriched the American elites who have enabled it—and it has degraded the nation’s political and social mores in the process. While everyone else was heralding an emergent globalist world that would take on the best values of America, Palmer had glimpsed the dire risk of the opposite: that the values of the kleptocrats would become America’s own. This grim vision is now nearing fruition.

The contagion has spread remarkably quickly, which is not to say steadily, in a country haunted since its founding by the perils of corruption. The United States has had seizures of conscience en route to the top of the new global order surveyed by the British journalist Oliver Bullough in his excellent book MoneylandWhy Thieves and Crooks Now Rule the World and How to Take It Back. In the months following Palmer’s testimony, the zeitgeist swerved in the direction he urged, at least momentarily. Newspaper articles in the fall of 1999 showed how billions in Russian money, some of it seemingly tied to an alleged crime boss, had landed in the Bank of New York. These sums startled Bill Clinton’s administration, which readied tough new anti-money-laundering bills, designed to stiffen banking regulations. But the administration was in its last year, and passing any new law would have required a legislative slog and bull-rushing obstreperous lobbyists, so plans stalled.

The Clinton-era proposals would have remained an unvisited curio in the National Archives had Osama bin Laden not attacked. But in the days after the Twin Towers collapsed, George W. Bush’s administration furiously scoured Washington for ideas to jam into the 342-page piece of legislation that would become the patriot Act. A sense of national panic created a brief moment for bureaucrats to realize previously shelved plans. Title III of the patriot Act, the International Money Laundering Abatement and Anti-terrorist Financing Act, was signed into law little more than a month after September 11.

This section of the bill was a monumental legislative achievement. Undeterred by the smoke clouds of crisis, representatives of the big banks had stalked the Senate, trying to quash the measure. Citibank officials reportedly got into shouting matches with congressional staffers in the hall. This anger reflected the force of the patriot Act. If a bank came across suspicious money transferred from abroad, it was now required to report the transfer to the government. A bank could face criminal charges for failing to establish sufficient safeguards against the flow of corrupt cash. Little wonder that banks fought fiercely against the imposition of so many new rules, which required them to bulk up their compliance divisions—and, more to the point, subjected them to expensive penalties for laxity.

Much of what Palmer had urged was suddenly the law of the land. But nestled in the patriot Act lay the handiwork of another industry’s lobbyists. Every House district in the country has real estate, and lobbyists for that business had pleaded for relief from the patriot Act’s monitoring of dubious foreign transactions. They all but conjured up images of suburban moms staking for sale signs on lawns, ill-equipped to vet every buyer. And they persuaded Congress to grant the industry a temporary exemption from having to enforce the new law.

The exemption was a gaping loophole—and an extraordinary growth opportunity for high-end real estate. For all the new fastidiousness of the financial system, foreigners could still buy penthouse apartments or mansions anonymously and with ease, by hiding behind shell companies set up in states such as Delaware and Nevada. Those states, along with a few others, had turned the registration of shell companies into a hugely lucrative racket—and it was stunningly simple to arrange such a Potemkin front on behalf of a dictator, a drug dealer, or an oligarch. According to Global Witness, a London-based anti-corruption NGO founded in 1993, procuring a library card requires more identification in many states than does creating an anonymous shell company.

Much of the money that might have snuck into banks before the patriot Act became law was now used to purchase property. The New York Times described the phenomenon in a series of exposés, published in 2015, called “Towers of Secrecy.” Reporters discovered that condos in the ultra-luxe Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle in Manhattan were owned by a constellation of kleptocrats. One condo belonged to the family of a former Russian senator whose suspected ties to organized crime precluded him from legally entering Canada for a few years. A condo down the hall belonged to a Greek businessman who had recently been arrested in an anti-government-corruption sweep. The family of a former Colombian governor, imprisoned for self-enrichment while in office, owned a unit he could no longer visit.

These denizens, all of whom denied wrongdoing, made their high-priced purchases in what has become a common way. Nationwide, nearly half of homes worth at least $5 million, the Times found, were bought using shell companies. The proportion was even greater in Los Angeles and Manhattan (where more than 80 percent of Time Warner Center sales fit that description). As the Treasury Department put it in 2017, nearly one in three high-end real-estate purchases that it monitors involves an individual whom the government has been tracking as “suspicious.” Yet somehow the presence of so many shady buyers has never especially troubled the real-estate industry or, for that matter, politicians. In 2013, New York City’s then-mayor, Michael Bloomberg, asked, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get all the Russian billionaires to move here?”

The warm welcome has created a strange dissonance in American policy. Take the case of the aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a character who has made recurring cameos in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The State Department, concerned about Deripaska’s connections to Russian organized crime (which he has denied), has restricted his travel to the United States for years. Such fears have not stood in the way of his acquiring a $42.5 million mansion on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and another estate near Washington’s Embassy Row.

Over time, the gap between the noble intentions of the patriot Act and the dirty reality of the property market became too wide to ignore. In 2016, Barack Obama’s administration tested a program to bring the real-estate industry in line with the banks, compelling brokers to report foreign buyers, too. The ongoing program, piloted in Miami and Manhattan, could have become the scaffolding for a truly robust enforcement regime. But then the American presidency turned over, and a landlord came to power. Obama’s successor liked selling condos to anonymous foreign buyers—and may have grown dependent on their cash.In 2017, Reuters examined the sale of Trump Organization properties in Florida. It found that 77 of 2,044 units in the developments were owned by Russians. But that was likely an incomplete portrait. More than one-third of the units had been sold to corporate vehicles, which can readily hide the identity of the true owner. As Oliver Bullough remarks, “They might have belonged to Vladimir Putin, for all anyone else could know.” Around the time that Trump took up occupancy in the White House, the patriot Act’s “temporary” exemption for real estate entered its 15th year. Without anyone ever declaring it so, the ephemeral has been enshrined.

The war on kleptocracy had meanwhile been lurching forward on another front. If foreign plutocrats remained mostly unscathed as they made themselves at home in the U.S., American plutocrats eager to hide their fortunes abroad faced fresh trouble. In 2007, the United States experienced one of its bouts of moral clarity, jolted by the confessions of a banker named Bradley Birkenfeld, who came clean to the Department of Justice. (He would later tell his story in a book called Lucifer’s Banker.) What he freely divulged to prosecutors were his client-recruiting efforts on behalf of UBS, the Swiss banking behemoth. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2019 at 4:33 pm

Artificial Intelligence Finds Ancient ‘Ghosts’ in Modern DNA

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Jordana Cepelewicz writes in Quanta:

Could deep learning help paleontologists and geneticists hunt for ghosts?

When modern humans first migrated out of Africa 70,000 years ago, at least two related species, now extinct, were already waiting for them on the Eurasian landmass. These were the Neanderthals and Denisovans, archaic humans who interbred with those early moderns, leaving bits of their DNA behind today in the genomes of people of non-African descent.

But there have been growing hints of an even more convoluted and colorful history: A team of researchers reported in Nature last summer, for instance, that a bone fragment found in a Siberian cave belonged to the daughter of a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father. The finding marked the first fossil evidence of a first-generation human hybrid.

Unfortunately, it’s very rare to find such fossils. (Our knowledge of Denisovans, for instance, is based on DNA extracted from a mere finger bone.) Many other ancestral pairings could easily have transpired, including ones that involved hybrid groups from earlier crosses — but they might be practically invisible when it comes to physical evidence. Clues to their occurrence may instead survive only in some people’s DNA, and even then, they may be subtler than the signs of Neanderthal and Denisovan genes there. Statistical models have helped scientists infer the existence of a couple of these populations without fossil data: For example, according to research published in late 2013, patterns of genetic variation in ancient and modern humans point to an unknown human population having interbred with Denisovans (or their ancestors). But experts believe these methods inevitably overlook a great deal, too.

Who else contributed to today’s genomes? What did these so-called ghost populations look like, where did they live, and how often did they interact and mate with other human species?

In a paper published last month in Nature Communications, researchers showed the potential for deep learning techniques to help fill in some of the missing pieces, pieces that experts may not have even been aware of. They used deep learning to sift out evidence of another ghost population: an unknown human ancestor in Eurasia, likely a Neanderthal-Denisovan hybrid or a relative of the Denisovan line.

The work points to the future usefulness of artificial intelligence in paleontology, not only for identifying unforeseen ghosts but also for uncovering the very faded footprints of the evolutionary processes that have shaped who we’ve become.

The Search for Subtle Signatures

Current statistical methods involve examining four genomes at a time for shared traits. It’s a test of similarity, but not necessarily of actual ancestry, because there are many different ways of interpreting the small amounts of genetic mixture it uncovers. For instance, such analyses might suggest that a modern-day European shares certain traits with the Neanderthal genome but not a modern-day African. But that doesn’t necessarily set in stone that those genes came from interbreeding between the Neanderthals and the ancestors of Europeans. The latter, for instance, could have instead bred with a different population, one closely related to Neanderthals but not the Neanderthals themselves.

We just don’t know, because in the absence of physical evidence to indicate when, where and how those ancient hypothetical sources of genetic variation might have lived, it’s difficult to say which of many possible inferred ancestries is most probable. The technique “is powerful because of its simplicity, but it leaves a lot on the table in terms of understanding evolution,” said John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The new deep learning method is an attempt to do better, by seeking to explain levels of gene flow that are too small for the usual statistical approaches, and by offering a far more vast and complicated range of models to do so. Through training, the neural network can learn to classify various patterns in genomic data based on what demographic histories most likely gave rise to them, without being told how to make those connections.

This use of deep learning can uncover ghosts we didn’t even suspect. For one, there’s no reason to think that Neanderthals, Denisovans and modern humans were the only three populations in the picture. According to Hawks, there could very well have been dozens.

Jason Lewis, an anthropologist at Stony Brook University in New York, shares that view. “Our imagination has been constrained by our focus on living people or on the fossils we’ve found from Europe, Africa and western Asia,” he said. “What deep learning techniques can do, in a strange way, is refocus the possibilities. The approach is no longer limited by our imagination.”

The Real Value of Simulated Histories

Deep learning might seem like an unlikely solution to paleontologists’ problem because such methods normally need massive amounts of training data. Take one of its most common applications, as an image classifier. When experts train a model to, say, identify images of cats, they have thousands of pictures they can train it with, and they themselves know if it’s working because they know what a cat should look like.

But the dearth of relevant anthropological and paleontological data available forced researchers who wanted to use deep learning to get clever, by creating data of their own. “We were kind of playing dirty,” said Oscar Lao, a researcher at the National Center of Genomic Analysis in Barcelona and one of the study’s authors. “We could use an infinite amount of data to train the deep learning engine, because we were using simulations.”

The researchers generated tens of thousands of simulated evolutionary histories based on differing combinations of demographic details: the number of ancestral human populations, their sizes, when they diverged from one another, their rates of intermixing and so on. From those simulated histories, the scientists generated a massive number of simulated genomes for present-day people. They trained their deep learning algorithm on these genomes, so that it learned which kinds of evolutionary models were most likely to produce given genetic patterns.

The team then set the artificial intelligence loose to infer the histories that best fit actual genomic data. Eventually, the system concluded that a previously unidentified human group had also contributed to the ancestry of people of Asian descent. From the genetic patterns involved, those humans were themselves probably either a distinct population that arose from the interbreeding of Denisovans and Neanderthals around 300,000 years ago, or a group that descended from the Denisovan lineage shortly afterward.

This isn’t the first time that deep learning has been used in this way. A handful of labs in the field have been applying similar methods to address other threads of evolutionary investigation. One research group, led by Andrew Kern at the University of Oregon, has used a simulation-based approach and machine learning techniques to differentiate between various models of how species, including humans, evolved. They found that most of the adaptations favored by evolution don’t rely on the emergence of beneficial new mutations in populations, but instead on the expansion of genetic variants that already existed.

The application of deep learning “to these new questions,” Kern said, “is yielding exciting results.”

Hype Versus Hope for the New Tool

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2019 at 4:18 pm

Amazon practices wage theft. It must be stopped.

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Johana Bhuiyan reports in the LA Times:

Amazon at times dips into the tips earned by contracted delivery drivers to cover their promised pay, a Times review of emails and receipts reveals.
Amazon guarantees third-party drivers for its Flex program a minimum of $18 to $25 per hour, but the entirety of that payment doesn’t always come from the company. If Amazon’s contribution doesn’t reach the guaranteed wage, the e-commerce giant makes up the difference with tips from customers, according to documentation shared by five drivers.

In emails to drivers, Amazon acknowledges it can use “any supplemental earnings” to meet the promised minimum should the company’s own contribution fall short.

“We add any supplemental earnings required to meet our commitment that delivery partners earn $18-$25 per hour,” the company wrote in multiple emails reviewed by The Times.

Amazon insists drivers receive the entirety of their tips, but declined to answer questions from The Times about whether it uses those tips to help cover the drivers’ base pay.

“Our pay commitment to delivery partners has not changed since we launched the Amazon Flex program — delivery partners still earn $18-25 per hour, including 100% of tips — and on average drivers earn over $20/hour,” Amazon spokeswoman Amanda Ip wrote in a statement.

Drivers question why they aren’t getting 100% of tips on top of their guaranteed pay.

“They just hide behind the fact that they guarantee $18 [an hour],” said driver Jeff Lee. “Sounds great but that $18 [an hour] guarantee could be all from customer tips while Amazon chips in zero.”

As Amazon has grown into one of the world’s biggest companies, it has relied heavily on contractors to help keep up with the pace of deliveries. These workers do not qualify for benefits offered to staff employees. Tipping is one way Amazon and other tech firms such as Uber and Lyft have moved to appease their contractor workforce.

But using tips to cover promised wages has proven controversial for delivery start-ups Instacart and DoorDash.

On Tuesday, those companies came under fire after BuzzFeed News reported they used tips to fulfill some pay promises.

Drivers have long suspected that Amazon uses their tips to hit promised wage targets, according to five former and current drivers who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

It has been hard for drivers to prove — the company does not provide them a breakdown of their compensation beyond showing the total paid out, citing privacy concerns.

But two drivers tested their suspicions when assigned to deliver packages to their own homes.

Another contract driver in Virginia who ordered paper towels for his family and was assigned to deliver the package tipped himself $15.90 — an amount he said would easily stand out. Two days later he checked his account. For the entire two-hour shift he worked, he was credited with receiving no tips.

He wrote to Amazon to complain. Without offering any explanation, the company adjusted his pay for that shift to $50.11. which included additional tips, according to receipts The Times reviewed. He no longer drives for Amazon but asked not to be named because he operates a business that caters to Amazon Flex drivers and fears speaking on the record could jeopardize that venture.

Lee, who still delivers for Amazon, said he tipped himself $12 and change for a package he brought to his own residence.

“It was slow that day and I had no orders to deliver, so I decided to place a one-hour order as a customer to see what the hell was going on with our tips as I knew I would be the next driver to deliver this one-hour [order] to my house,” Lee said.

His base pay for the 1½-hour shift was supposed to be $27. Including tips, he received a bit more than $30 — suggesting Amazon contributed only $18.

“The problem most drivers have with Amazon is there is zero transparency about our pay,” Lee said.

The practice is legal in some states. The California Labor Code’s Provision 351, which targets the practice, does not apply to contractors because they are seen as independent business owners. In Seattle, a group of drivers has contested that classification in a pending class-action lawsuit, claiming they are actually treated as employees.

Amazon would not say whether it dips into drivers’ tips in California. . . [The reason for not saying is obvious. – LG]

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2019 at 4:10 pm

Jeff Bezos confronts AMI Media and exposes their business model: Extortion

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This Medium post by Jeff Bezos is well worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2019 at 4:05 pm

Posted in Daily life, Media

Veterans are taking their own lives on VA hospital campuses, a desperate form of protest against a system that they feel hasn’t helped them.

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I doubt that the Trump Administration has the competence (or personnel: lots of unfilled vacancies in the Executive Branch) to address this problem.Emily Wax-Thibodeaux reports in the Washington Post:

Alissa Harrington took an audible breath as she slid open a closet door deep in her home office. This is where she displays what’s too painful, too raw to keep out in the open.

Framed photos of her younger brother, Justin Miller, a 33-year-old Marine Corps trumpet player and Iraq veteran. Blood-spattered safety glasses recovered from the snow-covered Nissan Frontier truck where his body was found. A phone filled with the last text messages from his father: “We love you. We miss you. Come home.”

Miller was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts when he checked into the Minneapolis Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in February 2018. After spending four days in the mental-health unit, Miller walked to his truck in VA’s parking lot and shot himself in the very place he went to find help.

“The fact that my brother, Justin, never left the VA parking lot — it’s infuriating,” said Harrington, 37. “He did the right thing; he went in for help. I just can’t get my head around it.”

A federal investigation into Miller’s death found that the Minneapolis VA made multiple errors: not scheduling a follow-up appointment, failing to communicate with his family about the treatment plan and inadequately assessing his access to firearms. Several days after his death, Miller’s parents received a package from the Department of Veterans Affairs — bottles of antidepressants and sleep aids prescribed to Miller.

His death is among 19 suicides that occurred on VA campuses from October 2017 to November 2018, seven of them in parking lots, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. While studies show that every suicide is highly complex — influenced by genetics, financial uncertainty, relationship loss and other factors — mental-health experts worry that veterans taking their lives on VA property has become a desperate form of protest against a system that some veterans feel hasn’t helped them.

The most recent parking lot suicide occurred weeks before Christmas in St. Petersburg, Fla. Marine Col. Jim Turner, 55, dressed in his uniform blues and medals, sat on top of his military and VA records and killed himself with a rifle outside the Bay Pines Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I bet if you look at the 22 suicides a day you will see VA screwed up in 90%,” Turner wrote in a note investigators found near his body.

VA declined to comment on individual cases, citing privacy concerns. But relatives say Turner had told them that he was infuriated that he wasn’t able to get a mental-health appointment that he wanted.

Veterans are 1.5 times as likely as civilians to die by suicide, after adjusting for age and gender. In 2016, the veteran suicide rate was 26.1 per 100,000, compared with 17.4 per 100,000 for non-veteran adults, according to a recent federal report. Before 2017, VA did not separately track on-campus suicides, said spokesman Curt Cashour.

The Trump administration has said that preventing suicide is its top clinical priority for veterans. In January 2018, President Trump signed an executive order to allow all veterans — including those otherwise ineligible for VA care — to receive mental-health services during the first year after military service, a period marked by a high risk for suicide, VA officials say. And VA points out that it stopped 233 suicide attempts between October 2017 and November 2018, when staff intervened to help veterans harming themselves on hospital grounds.

Sixty-two percent of veterans, or 9 million people, depend on VA’s vast hospital system, but accessing it can require navigating a frustrating bureaucracy. Veterans sometimes must prove that their injuries are connected to their service, which can require a lot of paperwork and appeals.

Veterans who take their own lives on VA grounds often intend to send a message, said Eric Caine, director of the Injury Control Research Center for Suicide Prevention at the University of Rochester.

“These suicides are sentinel events,” Caine said. “It’s very important for the VA to recognize that the place of a suicide can have great meaning. There is a real moral imperative and invitation here to take a close inspection of the quality of services at the facility level.”

Keita Franklin, who became VA’s executive director for suicide prevention in April, said the agency now trains parking lot attendants and patrols on suicide intervention. The agency also has launched a pilot program that expands its suicide prevention efforts, including peer mentoring, to civilian workplaces and state governments.

“We’re shifting from a model that says, ‘Let’s sit in our hospitals and wait for people to come to us,’ and take it to them,” she said during a congressional staff briefing in January.

For some veterans, the problem is not only interventions but also the care and conditions inside some VA mental-health programs.

John Toombs, a 32-year-old former Army sergeant and Afghanistan veteran, hanged himself on the grounds of the Alvin C. York VA Medical Center in Murfreesboro, Tenn., the morning before Thanksgiving 2016.

[Trump’s VA vowed to stop veteran suicide. Its leaders failed to spend millions set aside to reach those at risk.]

He had enrolled in an inpatient treatment program for PTSD,

substance abuse, depression and anxiety, said his father, David Toombs.

“John went in pledging that this is where I change my life; this is where I get better,” he said. But he was kicked out of the program for not following instructions, including being late to collect his medications, according to medical records.

A few hours before he took his life, Toombs wrote in a Facebook post from the Murfreesboro VA that he was “feeling empty,” with a distressed emoji.

“I dared to dream again. Then you showed me the door faster than last night’s garbage,” he wrote. “To the streets, homeless, right before the holidays.” . . .

Continue reading.

This is how the American government treats its vets, while giving big tax breaks to billionaires and corporations (and then saying that there’s no money to fix problems such as this).

Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2019 at 10:14 am

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