United States

Ask Slashdot: Did Baby Boomers Break America? (time.com) 271

"Automation taking jobs is only one symptom of a larger problem," argues an anonymous Slashdot reader, sharing a link to this excerpt from Steven Brill's new book Tailspin, which seeks to identify "the people and forces behind America's fifty-year fall -- and those fighting to reverse it." The excerpt has this intriguing title: "How Baby Boomers Broke America." As my generation of achievers graduated from elite universities and moved into the professional world, their personal successes often had serious societal consequences. They upended corporate America and Wall Street with inventions in law and finance that created an economy built on deals that moved assets around instead of building new ones. They created exotic, and risky, financial instruments, including derivatives and credit default swaps, that produced sugar highs of immediate profits but separated those taking the risk from those who would bear the consequences. They organized hedge funds that turned owning stock into a minute-by-minute bet rather than a long-term investment... Regulatory agencies were overwhelmed by battalions of lawyers who brilliantly weaponized the bedrock American value of due process so that, for example, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule protecting workers from a deadly chemical could be challenged and delayed for more than a decade and end up being hundreds of pages long. Lawyers then contested the meaning of every clause while racking up fees of hundreds of dollars per hour from clients who were saving millions of dollars on every clause they could water down...

As government was disabled from delivering on vital issues, the protected were able to protect themselves still more. For them, it was all about building their own moats. Their money, their power, their lobbyists, their lawyers, their drive overwhelmed the institutions that were supposed to hold them accountable -- government agencies, Congress, the courts... That, rather than a split between Democrats and Republicans, is the real polarization that has broken America since the 1960s. It's the protected vs. the unprotected, the common good vs. maximizing and protecting the elite winners' winnings... [I]n a way unprecedented in history, they were able to consolidate their winnings, outsmart and co-opt the forces that might have reined them in, and pull up the ladder so more could not share in their success or challenge their primacy.

Brill argues that the unprotected need things like "a realistic shot at justice in the courts," writing that instead "the First Amendment became a tool for the wealthy to put a thumb on the scales of democracy." And he shares these statistics about the rest of America today:
  • For adults in their 30s, the chance of earning more than their parents dropped to 50% from 90% just two generations earlier.
  • In 2017, household debt had grown higher than the peak reached in 2008 before the crash, with student and automobile loans staking growing claims on family paychecks.
  • Although the U.S. remains the world's richest country, it has the third-highest poverty rate among the 35 nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development...

Has he identified the source of a societal malaise? Leave your own thoughts in the comments.

And is Brill's thesis correct? Did baby boomers break America?


Businesses

US Reaches Deal To Keep Chinese Telecom ZTE in Business (reuters.com) 100

The Trump administration told lawmakers the U.S. government has reached a deal to put Chinese telecommunications company ZTE Corp back in business, a senior congressional aide said on Friday. From a report: The deal, communicated to officials on Capitol Hill by the Commerce Department, requires ZTE to pay a substantial fine, place U.S. compliance officers at the company and change its management team, the aide said. The Commerce Department would then lift an order preventing ZTE from buying U.S. products.

ZTE was banned in April from buying U.S. technology components for seven years for breaking an agreement reached after it violated U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea. The Commerce Department decision would allow it to resume business with U.S. companies, including chipmaker Qualcomm Inc.

Government

Trump Cancels Singapore Summit With North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un (cnbc.com) 497

President Donald Trump has cancelled his much anticipated meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that was scheduled to take place in Singapore on June 12, he announced moments ago. In a letter to Kim, the president said; "I was very much looking forward to being there with you. Sadly, based on the tremendous anger an open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time to have this long-planned meeting. Therefore, please let this letter to serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place." He added, "You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used."
Microsoft

Bill Gates Shares His Memories of Donald Trump (cnn.com) 490

MSNBC recently published a video of Bill Gates telling his staff at the Gates Foundation that he had two meetings with Donald Trump since the president was elected. In the video, Gates says Trump doesn't know the difference between two sexually transmitted diseases -- human papillomavirus (HPV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) -- and that it was "scary" how much Trump knew about Gates' daughter's appearance. Gates also said he urged Trump to support innovation and technology during those meetings. CNN reports: Taking audience questions about his interactions with Trump at a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation meeting, the former Microsoft honcho said he first met Trump in December 2016. He told the audience that Trump had previously come across his daughter, Jennifer, at a horse show in Florida. "And then about 20 minutes later he flew in on a helicopter to the same place," Gates said, according to video of the event broadcast by MSNBC late Thursday. "So clearly he had been driven away but he wanted to make a grand entrance in a helicopter. "Anyway, so when I first talked to him, it was actually kind of scary how much he knew about my daughter's appearance. Melinda (Gates' wife) didn't like that too well."

Gates also said he discussed science with Trump on two separate occasions, where he says the President questioned him on the difference between HIV and HPV. "In both of those two meetings, he asked me if vaccines weren't a bad thing because he was considering a commission to look into ill-effects of vaccines and somebody -- I think it was Robert Kennedy Jr. -- was advising him that vaccines were causing bad things. And I said no, that's a dead end, that would be a bad thing, don't do that. "Both times he wanted to know if there was a difference between HIV and HPV so I was able to explain that those are rarely confused with each other," Gates said.

Businesses

Trump Personally Pushed Postmaster General To Double Rates on Amazon, Other Firms: Report (washingtonpost.com) 352

President Trump personally urged the leader of the U.S. Postal Service to double the rates the agency charges Amazon and other firms for delivery packages in several private conversations in 2017 and 2018, The Washington Post reported Friday (alternative source). From the report: Postmaster General Megan Brennan has so far resisted Trump's demand, explaining in multiple conversations occurring this year and last that these arrangements are bound by contracts and must be reviewed by a regulatory commission, the three people said. She has told the president that the Amazon relationship is beneficial for the Postal Service and gave him a set of slides that showed the variety of companies, in addition to Amazon, that also partner for deliveries.

Despite these presentations, Trump has continued to level criticism at Amazon. And last month, his critiques culminated in the signing of an executive order mandating a government review of the financially strapped Postal Service that could lead to major changes in the way it charges Amazon and others for package delivery. Few U.S. companies have drawn Trump's ire as much as Amazon, which has rapidly grown to be the second-largest U.S. company in terms of market capitalization. For more than three years, Trump has fumed publicly and privately about the giant commerce and services company and its founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, who is also the owner of The Washington Post.

United States

Homeland Security Unveils New Cyber Security Strategy Amid Threats (reuters.com) 75

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday unveiled a new national strategy for addressing the growing number of cyber security risks as it works to assess them and reduce vulnerabilities. From a report: "The cyber threat landscape is shifting in real-time, and we have reached a historic turning point," DHS chief Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement. "It is clear that our cyber adversaries can now threaten the very fabric of our republic itself." The announcement comes amid concerns about the security of the 2018 U.S. midterm congressional elections and numerous high-profile hacking of U.S. companies.
Businesses

Apple CEO Says He Has Urged Trump To Address Legal Status of Immigrants; Also Told Him That Tariffs Are Wrong Approach To China (bloomberg.com) 381

Apple chief executive Tim Cook told Bloomberg Television that he has criticized Donald Trump's approach to trade with China in a recent White House meeting, while also urging the president to address the legal status of immigrants known as Dreamers. From the interview: Cook said his message to Trump focused on the importance of trade and how cooperation between two countries can boost the economy more than nations acting alone. Cook met with Trump in the Oval Office in late April amid a brewing trade war between the U.S. and China. The Trump administration instituted 25 percent tariffs on at least $50 billion worth of products from China, sparking retaliation. In the interview on "The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations," Cook acknowledged that previous trade policies were flawed but said Trump's move is also problematic. "It's true, undoubtedly true, that not everyone has been advantaged from that -- in either country -- and we've got to work on that," Cook said. "But I felt that tariffs were not the right approach there, and I showed him some more analytical kinds of things to demonstrate why."
Security

Kaspersky Lab Moving Core Infrastructure To Switzerland (securityweek.com) 78

wiredmikey writes: As part of its Global Transparency Initiative, Russia-based Kaspersky Lab today announced that it will adjust its infrastructure to move a number of "core processes" from Russia to Switzerland. The security firm has faced challenges after several governments have banned Kaspersky software over security concerns, despite no hard evidence that Kaspersky has ever colluded with the Russian government. As an extension to its transparency initiative, announced in October 2017, the firm is now going further by making plans for its processes and source code to be independently supervised by a qualified third-party. To this end, it is supporting the creation of a new, non-profit "Transparency Center" able to assume this responsibility not just for itself, but for other partners and members who wish to join. Noticeably, Kaspersky Lab does not link the move specifically to the effects of the U.S. ban, but sees wider issues of global trust emerging.
Google

Google Employees Resign in Protest Against Pentagon Contract (gizmodo.com) 469

Kate Conger, reporting for Gizmodo: It's been nearly three months since many Google employees -- and the public -- learned about the company's decision to provide artificial intelligence to a controversial military pilot program known as Project Maven, which aims to speed up analysis of drone footage by automatically classifying images of objects and people. Now, about a dozen Google employees are resigning in protest over the company's continued involvement in Maven.

The resigning employees' frustrations range from particular ethical concerns over the use of artificial intelligence in drone warfare to broader worries about Google's political decisions -- and the erosion of user trust that could result from these actions. Many of them have written accounts of their decisions to leave the company, and their stories have been gathered and shared in an internal document, the contents of which multiple sources have described to Gizmodo.

Government

North Korea Announces Plans To Dismantle Nuclear Test Site (npr.org) 217

The Associated Press is reporting North Korea has announced plans to dismantle its nuclear test site between May 23 and 25. The dismantling will occur before President Trump is scheduled to meet with Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12. NPR reports: Reuters reports that Punggye-ri nuclear test site has been the location of all of North Korea's six known nuclear tests. At the site, there's a system of tunnels under the mountain Mount Mantap. Journalists from the United States, South Korea, China, Russia and Britain will be invited to watch a special ceremony in which all of the tunnels at the testing ground will be destroyed and observation and research facilities and guard units will be taken down. The North Korean government will provide journalists with a charter flight from Beijing to Wosnan, North Korea. From there, a train will take them to the test site in the northeast part of the country.

The AP also reports that at a ruling party meeting last month, North Korea announced the plan to close the nuclear testing ground, along with a commitment to suspend all tests of nuclear devices and ICBMs. At that same meeting, however, North Korea said it has been performing a kind of nuclear test classified as "subcritical." The "subcritical" experiments give scientists an opportunity to test weapons without causing an actual nuclear chain reaction and explosion.

United States

US Congressmen Reveal Thousands of Facebook Ads Bought By Russian Trolls (mercurynews.com) 309

An anonymous reader writes: Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday released about 3,400 Facebook ads purchased by Russian agents around the 2016 presidential election on issues from immigration to gun control, a reminder of the complexity of the manipulation that Facebook is trying to contain ahead of the midterm elections. The ads, which span from mid-2015 to mid-2017, illustrate the extent to which Kremlin-aligned forces sought to stoke social, cultural and political unrest on one of the Web's most powerful platforms. With the help of Facebook's targeting tools, Russia's online army reached at least 146 million people on Facebook and Instagram, its photo-sharing service, with ads and other posts, including events promoting protests around the country...

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said lawmakers would continue probing Russia's online disinformation efforts. In February, Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russia and the 2016 election, indicted individuals tied to the IRA for trying to interfere in the presidential race. "They sought to harness Americans' very real frustrations and anger over sensitive political matters in order to influence American thinking, voting and behavior," Schiff said in a statement. "The only way we can begin to inoculate ourselves against a future attack is to see first-hand the types of messages, themes and imagery the Russians used to divide us...."

The documents released Thursday also reflect that Russian agents continued advertising on Facebook well after the presidential election... They marketed a page called Born Liberal to likely supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the data show, an ad that had more than 49,000 impressions into 2017. Together, the ads affirmed the fears of some lawmakers, including Republicans, that Russian agents have continued to try to influence U.S. politics even after the 2016 election. Russian agents also had created thousands of accounts on Twitter, and in January, the company revealed that it discovered more than 50,000 automated accounts, or bots, with links to Russia.

Democrats

Senate Democrats Force a Vote To Restore Net Neutrality (theverge.com) 144

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and 32 other Democrats have submitted a new discharge petition under the Congressional Review Act, setting the stage for a full congressional vote to restore net neutrality. Because of the unique CRA process, the petition has the power to force a Senate vote on the resolution, which leaders say is expected next week. The Congressional Review Act allows Congress to roll back regulations within 60 legislative days of introduction, a process that today's resolution would apply to the internet rules introduced by FCC chairman Ajit Pai in December. Pai's rules reversed the 2015 Open Internet Order, which had explicitly banned blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization by internet providers. To successfully undo the Pai order and restore the 2015 rules, today's resolution would need a bare majority in both the Senate and the House, as well as the president's signature.
EU

Trump Withdraws US From Iran Nuclear Deal (nytimes.com) 900

President Trump on Tuesday announced he is withdrawing the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, a historic accord signed in 2015 that aims to limit Tehran's nuclear ability for more than a decade in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions against the country. "This was a horrible one-sided deal that should never, ever been made," Mr. Trump said at the White House in announcing his decision. "It didn't bring calm, it didn't bring peace, and it never will." The New York Times reports: Mr. Trump's announcement, while long anticipated and widely telegraphed, plunges America's relations with European allies into deep uncertainty. They have committed to staying in the deal, raising the prospect of a diplomatic and economic clash as the United States reimposes stringent sanctions on Iran. It also raises the prospect of increasing tensions with Russia and China, which also are parties to the agreement.

One person familiar with negotiations to keep the accord in place said the talks collapsed over Mr. Trump's insistence that sharp limits be kept on Iran's nuclear fuel production after 2030. The deal currently lifts those limits. As a result, the United States is now preparing to reinstate all sanctions it had waived as part of the nuclear accord -- and impose additional economic penalties as well, according to another person briefed on Mr. Trump's decision.
Despite Trump's decision, President Hassan Rouhani said that Iran would remain committed to a multinational nuclear deal. "If we achieve the deal's goals in cooperation with other members of the deal, it will remain in place. [...] By exiting the deal, America has officially undermined its commitment to an international treaty," Rouhani said in a televised speech. "I have ordered the foreign ministry to negotiate with the European countries, China and Russia in coming weeks. If at the end of this short period we conclude that we can fully benefit from the JCPOA with the cooperation of all countries, the deal would remain," he added.
Advertising

Placing Election Ads On Google Will Require a Government ID (gizmodo.com) 227

Google announced new policies Friday that will require advertisers to prove they are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident when buying election ads. "Under the new guidelines, Google will ask advertisers -- be they individuals, organizations, or political action committees -- to prove they are who they claim to be," reports Gizmodo. "It will also require the ads to include a clear disclosure of who is paying for it." From the report: The change comes after Google and other social media companies revealed their advertising platforms were abused by foreign actors, including the Russian government-backed troll farm Internet Research Agency, during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It also places Google's policies in line with U.S. laws for traditional media that restrict foreign entities from running election ads. Where Google's effort falls short, at least in its current iteration, is the new policies only cover ads featuring candidates running for office. So-called "issue ads" that advocate a certain point of view on hot-button topics are not covered in Google's policies.
Canada

Tech Conferences Moving North as Trump Policies Turn Off Attendees (financialpost.com) 340

The Collision Conference, one of North America's most influential technology gatherings, tweeted on Tuesday: "We've got some news. It's about Toronto. But we'll let Justin Trudeau tell you about it." What followed was a video in which the prime minister announced that Collision, which typically boasts 25,000 attendees, will be coming to Canada in 2019. From a report: "I'm happy you chose Toronto to host North America's fastest growing tech conference for the next three years, but I have to say, I'm not completely surprised," Trudeau said. "Toronto is a key global tech hub and an example of the diversity that is our strength." And Collision is not alone in coming north. At least two other major technology conferences have recently made the decision to relocate to Canada, lured in part by Toronto's burgeoning tech sector, but also driven by travel restrictions imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump, policies that have left organizers scrambling to accommodate those who can't visit the United States.

In mid-April, Creative Commons, an international non-profit dedicated to the legal sharing of digital content, held their global summit in Toronto for the second year in a row. "The political climate in the U.S., specifically the open hostility from the current administration towards many international communities, and the anxiety from those we work with about how they might be treated was definitely a deciding factor," said Ryan Merkley, CEO of Creative Commons. "What's most unfortunate is that this approach is so inconsistent with the views of the many collaborative communities we work with every day in the U.S."

At Access Now, a non-profit that organizes the RightsCon digital rights conference, Trump's travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries hit close to home. "One of our interns at the time was an Iranian citizen with a U.S. green card, and she wasn't able to leave the country to go to Brussels to help us organize the (2017) event," RightsCon director Nick Dagostino said. For years, RightsCon has alternated between San Francisco and a series of global venues, and after last year's event in Brussels, heading back to California would have been the natural choice. But then, people started telling Access Now that if the event happened in the U.S., they wouldn't show up.

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