Archive

May 22nd, 2016

Chinese government fakes nearly 450 million social media comments a year

    Internet researchers have long known that the Chinese government manipulates content on the Internet. Not only does it engage in heavy censorship, but it also employs hundreds of thousands of people, the so-called "50 cent army," to write comments on the Internet. New research by Gary King, Jennifer Pan and Margaret Roberts (whom I'll refer to as KPR for convenience) uses sophisticated techniques of gathering and analyzing massive amounts of data to tell us what is going on.

    - The fake commenters are being paid by the government.

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May 21st

Sanders is leading his movement over a cliff

    At this point, the best thing Bernie Sanders's supporters can probably do for his reputation is to vote against him in the remaining primaries and caucuses.

    Hillary Clinton long ago wrapped up the nomination. Tuesday's results -- her narrow victory in Kentucky and his win by about 10 percentage points in Oregon -- doesn't change anything: It's over. If you include super-delegates, Clinton is only about 100 delegates away from clinching, and with Democratic proportional allocation she is basically guaranteed to get there.

    Yet the closer Clinton gets to her official victory, the more Sanders and his campaign act as if the nomination was unfairly stolen from him -- that somehow the doors of the party have been unfairly closed against his followers. This culminated in an ugly scene in Nevada last weekend, with Sanders supporters threatening Democratic Party officials there.

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A very important post about … the global governance of superheroes

    (WARNING: this post contains plot spoilers to "Captain America: Civil War." Also, this column is called 'Spoiler Alerts,' for goodness sake. You get the idea.)

    The plot question that sets "Captain America: Civil War" into motion is the very important question of whether the Avengers should comply with an international regime that will monitor and deploy superheroes. Tony Stark -- a.k.a. Iron Man -- wants to comply with the Sokovia Accords, designed to put constraints on the superheroes. He sees the way the political winds are blowing after some costly collateral damage in New York, D.C., Sokovia and Lagos, and thinks that agreeing now will be better than agreeing later. Steve Rogers -- a.k.a. Captain America -- rejects being the puppets of a remote international regime. He worries that a U.N.-controlled body will use the Avengers to serve its own political agenda and not do the right thing.

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Will 'President Hillary Clinton' open the X-Files?

    If "the truth is out there," as they used to say on the old "X-Files" program, Hillary Clinton says she's eager to expose it.

    No, she's not talking about her controversial email server, although an FBI investigation is looking into that, too.

    She's talking about UFOs (unidentified flying objects) or, as she corrected Jimmy Kimmel when he recently asked her on his late-night-TV show about possible visitors from other planets, "unexplained aerial phenomena" -- or U.A.P.

    "That's the latest nomenclature," she said, scoring points, no doubt, with UFO -- or UAP -- enthusiasts.

    Barring any threats to national security, the former secretary of state said, she would open up government files on little green visitors or whoever else may have paid us a visit from other planets.

    It would be easier, I suppose, than opening up the texts to her high-priced speeches to Goldman Sachs, as requested by her Democratic rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

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Uber Goes Under in Austin

    Pouty, whiney, spoiled-bratism isn’t nice coming from a four-year-old. But it’s altogether grotesque when it comes from billion-dollar corporations like Uber and Lyft.

    The two car-for-hire companies call their service “ridesharing.” But these internet-based brats are takers, not sharers: Much of the fares they charge riders ends up in the pockets of their hedge-fund owners.

    Still, they insist that they’re new-economy, tech-driven geniuses — and that they’re above the fusty old local laws that other transportation companies follow. Uber and Lyft have made it corporate policy to throw hissy fits when cities — from Los Angeles to Atlanta, Houston to Portland — have dared to even propose rules to protect customers and drivers.

    The latest tantrum from the Silicon Valley giants came in Austin, when the city council adopted a few modest, perfectly reasonable rules — like fingerprint-based background checks for drivers.

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Trump: Stonewaller, Shape-Shifter, Liar

    The last few weeks have offered Americans a chilling glimpse of three faces of Donald Trump: the stonewaller, the shape-shifter and the liar.

    Trump the stonewaller has been on display in his refusal to release his tax returns. "It's none of your business," Trump flatly told ABC's George Stephanopoulos when asked about his effective tax rate.

     Stephanopoulos: "Yes or no, do you believe voters have a right to see your tax returns before they make a final decision?"

    Trump: "I don't think they do. But I do say this, I will really gladly give them."

    Sure, he'd be happy to -- except that he isn't. And it is our business. Voters are entitled to know this information about a candidate for president, a person who would help steer the nation's finances. For decades, presidential candidates have routinely made this material available.

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Trump tries to comfort the skittish womenfolk

    In his interview with the Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly on Tuesday night, Donald Trump tried to pull off a win-win straight out of "The Art of the Deal": at once trying to prove that he was a friend of women and that no woman gets the best of him. It's not clear how well he succeeded, but he was able to put an end to his feud with a star newswoman and make nice with a network he will need in the general election.

    The dealmaker was careful to give Kelly something: She got to prove her chops as uber-anchor, hosting her first prime-time special like Barbara Walters lassoing a big player as lead-off batter and peppering him with touchy-feely questions, garnering sky-high ratings.

    Kelly stopped short of asking what kind of tree Trump would choose to be, but she did go beyond his building a wall. Regrets? He has a few but he wouldn't name them. When asked if he'd been hurt emotionally, he told Kelly he'd have to get back to her. That's not likely, though. He said looking backward was "not healthy."

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The new overtime rule is one of Obama's most progressive actions

    The Obama administration's new overtime rule was finalized Tuesday night, and it will go into effect in the nation's workplaces on Dec. 1 of this year. I'll get to the details in a moment, but this update of a vital labor standard is a great advance for working people. I'd go as far as to say that this may be the administration's most significant action on behalf of middle-class paychecks.

    Here are the basics of the final rule:

    -- The new salary threshold is $47,476, or $913 per week, just about double the current weekly threshold of $455.

    To prevent abuse of the overtime law, which maintains that all hourly workers must be paid "time-and-a-half" (1.5 times their base hourly wage) for weekly hours worked beyond 40, employers can't simply make someone exempt by paying them a salary. Salaried workers whose pay is below the OT threshold must also get OT pay. The new threshold represents the 40th percentile pay of full-time, salaried workers in the southern region of the United States. I know: why 40th, why southern, etc.?

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The logic of gun rights puts pistols in pockets

    Much criticism of the gradual expansion of the constitutional right to bear arms by U.S. courts has focused on assault weapons and mass shootings. But gun-rights advocates are conquering another frontier: the regulation of handguns in urban space.

    On Tuesday, a federal district court struck down restrictions on carrying concealed handguns imposed by Washington, D.C. As of Wednesday, if you want to carry a concealed handgun in the nation's capital, that's your right. Maybe they should change the Wizards' name back to the Bullets.

    Before this decision came down, I described the constitutional jurisprudence that has generated a systematic expansion in the meaning and reach of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. The district court's decision fits the paradigm perfectly.

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Subtract One Clinton

    Bill Clinton should go home.

    It’s easy to see why his wife’s campaign is giving him a major role. His political skills are legendary. And he’s the spouse, for heaven’s sake. Presidential candidates always rely on their families to fill out the schedule, show up where they can’t, spread good cheer.

    But we all know this is different. Campaigning in Kentucky — where her husband is more popular than she is — Hillary Clinton told voters that Bill would be “in charge of revitalizing the economy” in her administration. At another stop she promised that if they returned to the White House, “I’ll expect him to go to work ... to get incomes rising.”

    She presented herself as part of a duo that knows “a little bit about how to create jobs. I think my husband did a heck of a job.”

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