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Finally, Japan’s push for female empowerment is being lead by a woman

Sat, 2017-10-21 02:00

Tokyo’s proud and stubborn patriarchy hasn’t been the same since July 31, 2016. That’s when the capital city’s 14 million people opted to elect a woman for governor, over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s chosen candidate.

The establishment didn’t see Yuriko Koike coming. After a brief stint as defense minister in 2007, she spent several quiet years as a parliament member. But by mid-2016, Koike had enough of the revolving door of 60-something men from Japan Inc. central casting running Tokyo. All promised to diversify decision-making, narrow the gender gap, and pull more women into politics. All had failed. So, Koike threw her hat in the ring.

The timing was as ideal as Koike’s sales pitch: an outsider ready to upend the status quo in a city grown complacent. She zeroed in on corruption and tepid wage growth. Remarkably, she won male voters along with women, securing broad support from voters seeking fresh ideas and new energy. Her milestone put a spotlight on Japan’s gender-imbalance problem—and highlighted a clear solution to the economy’s decades-long malaise.

In just 14 months, Koike took on the powerful nuclear and tobacco lobbies. She demanded a detailed accounting of why 2020 Olympics costs are already double initial estimates. She delayed the relocation of the famed Tsukiji fish market because of toxic-soil concerns. Her popularity surged, while Abe’s waned amid cronyism scandals.

Now, Koike, 65, wants to take her success national with her brand-new Party of Hope, formed Sept. 25. It promises to boost stagnant wages, increase use of renewable energy, and raise Japan’s global competitiveness if given the mandate to do so in the national election taking place Sunday (Oct. 22).

It’s a decidedly uphill climb. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party has essentially led Japan for 62 years, has a near-lock on rural voters, and uses its financial war chest to wage negative campaigns against challengers. But no matter the outcome Sunday, Japan’s liveliest election in ages is already producing a clear winner: women.

Since December 2012, Abe talked early and often about empowering women as part of his ‘Abenomics’ program. The scheme has three parts: monetary easing, fiscal loosening, and deregulation. Better utilizing the female workforce is a key element of phase three. Goldman Sachs estimates (pdf), for example, that gross domestic product would get a 15% boost if the female labor participation rate matched that of men (about 80%). Closing the gap is the fastest way to boost productivity and offset a shrinking and aging labor pool.

To date, Abe’s goal of making Japan a place where “all women can shine” is more hype than reality. Abe discarded a vow to ensure women hold 30% of leadership positions by 2020. On his watch, Japan fell on the World Economic Forum’s gender equality index, to 111th from 98th place. Japan, it bears noting, trails Saudi Arabia in the number of women in politics.

Koike’s party would do better. It plans to remove “institutional impediments” to gender-pay equality and a better work-life balance, and support more progressive corporate mindsets. Koike vows to prod more women to run for public office and speaks approvingly of Europe-like quotas for women in politics and business. Just 49 of the Party of Hope’s 234 candidates are women, highlighting how far Japan needs to go to recruit female candidates to run for office.

Yet the real power of the Koike effect may be filling the role-model void.

Abe, for example, only allotted two of 20 cabinet slots for women. He’s never entrusted a key ministry to a woman: foreign affairs, finance or chief cabinet secretary. The private sector is hardly diversity central: not one Nikkei 225 company is run by a Japanese woman.

Enter Koike, who’s leaning in to an extent Japan has never seen before— a smart, strong woman fluent in English, Arabic, and the language of political warfare.

“’Womeonomics’ needs a boost from its own kind,” says Nancy Snow, professor of foreign studies at Kyoto University. “Koike is able to speak from experience and not from the perspective of the current PM, who lacks authenticity on the issue. It’s like who do you want talking about women and economics—Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton?”

Koike “can serve as a model inspiring other women sick of being mommy-tracked and has tapped a woman as her deputy governor, backing up words with action,” adds Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University’s Tokyo campus. “Maybe this will goad Abe into delivering on some of his broken promises.”

Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 bestseller Lean In urged women to challenge patriarchal norms. In Japan, though, equal pressure must come from the other side. Women entering the workforce face chronic job insecurity, maternity harassment, enabling human-resources departments and a near-impossible task of finding affordable daycare. Japan Inc. is still wedded to an early-20th century ethos of men work, women keep house—to its detriment.

Koike is challenging these growth-killing conventions— and Japanese gender stereotypes that women aren’t good leaders. On her 2013 book tour, Sandberg advised a Tokyo audience to “get rid of the idea that men lead organizations and it is appropriate for women to support the men’s jobs.” Koike is a bona fide conservative, part of a rightist movement seeking to alter the pacifist postwar constitution so that Japan can build a more muscular military. That could be a plus with skeptical male voters. Koike, Snow says, “speaks to policies that transcend her women status—nuclear, constitution—and she isn’t seen as ‘expecting’ the female support. Plus, so far, no big gaffes or controversies. Fingers crossed.”

Male-dominated Japan may never be the same—and that’s good news for its deflationary economy.

Pollution’s price tag, police body cams, and eight other stories you might have missed

Fri, 2017-10-20 17:15
1. Check your thermos, stat

Trouble is brewing. “Climate change could spell disaster for coffee, a crop that requires specific temperatures to flourish and that is highly sensitive to a range of pests. So scientists are racing to develop more tenacious strains of one of the world’s most beloved beverages.” WaPo’s Caitlin Dewey on the scientific advances being made in the race to save coffee. Rising seas will swallow our cities. Wildfires will rip through our forests and communities. Ferocious hurricanes will gain more damaging strength, while deadly heatwaves and droughts will be interspersed with raging floods. Warmer and increasingly polluted air will become less breathable. Ice caps will melt faster than the vanilla ice cream in an affogato. Bloody wars will be fought over food and natural resources as mass refugee crises become the norm. But, with a little luck, there’s a reasonably good chance that your iced caramel latte macchiato can be saved. (Though, there’s no guarantee baristas won’t go extinct.)

+ A new global report on pollution’s annual price tag: $4.6 Trillion and 9 Million Dead.

2. Exposure value

“I think a lot of people were suggesting that the body-worn cameras would change behavior. There was no indication that the cameras changed behavior at all.” NPR: A body cam study shows no effect on police use of force or citizen complaints. An increase in the number of cameras everywhere doesn’t seem to have changed anyone’s behavior much…

3. Weekend whats

What to erase: Last night I attended a star-studded fundraiser for a great organization called Bring Change to Mind, dedicated to ending the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness. The organization was founded by Glenn Close (who spent a season of Damages opposite a character named after me), and my friends Nellie Dragonic and Zach Williams (who presented Billy Crystal with an award named for his dad, Robin) are on the board. One of the evening’s highlights was getting to hear Idina Menzel cover Creep. Here she is performing it at another event.

+ What to read: How seeing problems in the brain makes stigma disappear. “Dramatic advances in brain imaging, genetics and other technologies are helping us objectively identify mental illness.”

+ What to watch: Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller and Dustin Hoffman in Noah Bombach’s latest film (made for Netflix): The Meyerowitz Stories.

4. Boomtown drats

“It really captured the essence of Florida, a precarious civilization engineered out of a watery wilderness, a bewildering dreamscape forged by greed, flimflam and absurdly grandiose visions that somehow stumbled into heavily populated realities.” Michael Grunwald in Politico Magazine: The boomtown that shouldn’t exist. “Cape Coral, Florida, was built on total lies. One big storm could wipe it off the map. Oh, and it’s also the fastest-growing city in the United States.”

5. From depressing drama to crime story

“The new allegation could be legally troubling for Weinstein because it falls within the 10-year statute of limitations for the crime that existed at the time of the alleged incident, legal experts say.” Following similar moves in NY and London, the LAPD has opened an investigation into alleged rape by Harvey Weinstein.

+ Two from the NYT: Quentin Tarantino: “I knew enough to do more than I did.” And Lupita Nyong’o: Speaking out about Harvey Weinstein.

6. Garden snakes

With the increased attention being focused on Richard Spencer and others, neo-Nazis are having a moment. Such events, even on American soil, are nothing new. “In 1939, 20,000 Americans rallied in New York’s Madison Square Garden to celebrate the rise of Nazism – an event largely forgotten from American history.” Here’s a short film from (fellow NextDraft subscriber) Marshall Curry. A Night at the Garden. (Sadly, some of the contents of the speech will sound all too familiar.)

+ WaPo: When Nazis rallied in Manhattan, one working-class Jewish man from Brooklyn took them on.

7. Wait, what were we talking about?

“In many ways, the Niger operation typifies U.S. military missions underway in roughly 20 African countries, mostly in the northern third of the continent. They tend to be small, they are carried out largely below the radar, and most are focused on a specific aim: rolling back Islamist extremism.” The media has been focused on the Trump-created controversy concerning calls made to families of soldiers lost in battle. Now the event at the root of that controversy is finally getting some attention. What happened to the soldiers killed in Niger, and what were they doing there in the first place? NPR: The U.S. military in Africa: A discreet presence in many places. (Maybe this is all a simulation to test if we’d actually resort to yelling at each other about a fallen soldier. If so, we failed the test.)

+ Buzzfeed: “A Nigerien official has said US troops acted without proper intelligence. A French official described the battling sides as ‘overlapping.’ But there’s no official US version.”

8. Chain links

“Saving the planet, fixing healthcare, replacing conventional currency—there is apparently nothing that the shared-database technology known as blockchains can’t fix.” But what the hell is a blockchain? Here’s a two-minute video from Wired to get you started. A simple news search will make it clear that the block chain is about to be everywhere.

9. Bearly there

“Nora was the first newborn polar bear to live more than a few days at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium since it opened in 1927. Her birth in a concrete den in central Ohio represented all the ways humans and polar bears were inextricably tangled – from the day nearly three decades before when an orphaned cub was pulled from an icy den in the Alaskan wilderness, to the political battle that appointed her species the sad-eyed symbol of climate change. She represented the damage humans had done to the Earth, and she offered the thinnest hope of setting things right.” Kale Williams with an incredibly detailed piece in The Oregonian: The loneliest polar bear.

10. Bottom of the news

“In theory, you can win as much as $566,400 on a single episode of Jeopardy, assuming you got every clue and maxed out every Daily Double.” It turns out you can also win with just one buck. The Ringer: An anatomy of the worst game in Jeopardy history.

+ Serious cornhole. “You might think of cornhole as a lighthearted lawn game, but it actually has a professional league, a family of stars, and some budding momentum. Really.” (I’m nostalgic for the days when this would have been the most ridiculous news of the week.)

+ Dogs really do turn on the puppy eyes when humans look at them, according to researchers studying canine facial expressions. (This is probably a decent time to consider the possibility that we have too many researchers…)

Quartz now syndicates NextDraft, a daily roundup for the day’s most fascinating news curated by Dave Pell. Read the archive here. Sign up to get the newsletter or download the app here.

SoftBank, which already runs the largest tech investment fund, wants a new one that’s double the size

Fri, 2017-10-20 15:16

SoftBank already controls a $100 billion tech investment fund—now it wants one twice as large.

Jean-Claude Van Damme is bringing absurdity back to the action genre

Fri, 2017-10-20 15:13

“No one’s going to die, except for all the people I’m going to kill,” Jean-Claude Van Damme says in Jean-Claude Van Johnson, an upcoming series from Amazon. It’s a line that he might have played straight in an early 1990s action film, but here it’s used to make fun of the genre that he himself helped pioneer, movies that were staples of American entertainment for more than a decade.

Van Damme will play a self-deprecating version of himself in the new series. As in real-life, he’s an older, washed-up martial artist and actor (“I used to be super famous,” he deadpans in the trailer), except now he’s using his status as a Hollywood icon to go undercover as an operative: “Johnson.”

The series lampoons the type of cheesy roles that made Van Damme famous, and also references a few modern action film franchises like The Fast and the Furious and Taken. Jean-Claude Van Johnson premieres on Amazon Video on Dec. 15.

Here’s the trailer, released today:

Jean-Claude Van Johnson comes at a time when the Hollywood action genre has churned out boringly grim hit after boringly grim hit. There are, of course, exceptions, but most action films look and sound the same, feature similar plots (Revenge! Middle-age white guy taking on an entire criminal organization! Sexual violence!), and lack the type of levity that made those cheesy 1990s action films so fun to watch.

These films, though occasionally well-made and marginally entertaining, eschew self-awareness. That’s what makes Jean-Claude Van Johnson a timely reprieve.

Van Damme is not the first actor to play a fictionalized version of himself helping the US government catch bad guys in a series on a streaming TV service. Veronica Mars star Ryan Hansen stars in Ryan Hansen Solves Crime on Television, an upcoming series on YouTube Red that is exactly what it sounds like.

Van Damme has already played versions of himself twice before: In an episode of the TV show Las Vegas (in which he was promptly killed off), and also in the 2008 film JCVD. About the latter, the late film critic Roger Ebert said, “Van Damme says worse things about himself than critics would dream of saying, and the effect is shockingly truthful.”

Facebook is teaming up with governments to protect elections from fake news

Fri, 2017-10-20 13:53

Mark Zuckerberg famously called “pretty crazy” the idea that Facebook had influenced the 2016 US elections. He later apologized for the comment, and now the company says it will work with the US to uncover the extent of Russian meddling. Outside the country, it’s actively working to counteract the fake news problems its platform helps create in the first place.

Ahead of parliamentary elections in Italy next year, Facebook is joining the government in teaching high school students how to spot false information and conspiracy theories, the New York Times reported. In Canada, the company launched the Canadian Election Integrity Initiative, to blunt potential cyber attacks prior to that country’s 2019 federal elections. The program, rolled out Oct. 19, includes a crisis hotline for politicians concerned about hacking, a “cyber hygiene guide” educating political parties on their online vulnerabilities, and a partnership with a nonprofit to raise news literacy.

“At Facebook we take our responsibilities seriously,” said Kevin Chan, Facebook Canada’s head of policy, Motherboard reported. “We don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy,” he said, repeating Zuckerberg’s own words from September.

 “When you design a platform that reaches 2 billion people every month, sometimes bad things happen”  

Some governments remain wary about Facebook’s newfound dedication. Laura Boldrini, the head of Italy’s lower chamber of parliament, who is leading the anti-fake news project, told The Times she was skeptical about Facebook’s commitment to combatting fake news and hate speech.

Facebook said it took down tens of thousands of fake accounts prior to German elections Sept. 24, praised by Wired as a “baby step” in redemption. Earlier this week, ProPublica reported that despite complaints, the platform did not take down posts targeting the Green Party that came from a shady page that disappeared after the election.

Meanwhile, the company’s leadership has sounded less than convincing in its view of fake news. Earlier this week, David Marcus, the head of Messenger told The Wall Street Journal’s D Live conference, “Let’s not just forget all the good that the Facebook platform and its various products bring to the world.

“When you design a platform that reaches 2 billion people every month, sometimes bad things happen,” Marcus said, in a widely quoted statement. “We shouldn’t tolerate those things or let them happen.”

Puerto Rico is becoming a textbook example of how waterborne disease outbreaks spread

Fri, 2017-10-20 13:32

The disaster in Puerto Rico wrought by hurricane Maria is still unraveling one month after it hit.

Most of the island remains without electricity. A third of residents still don’t have running water, while those who do can’t count on what comes out of the faucet being clean. Meanwhile, pools and puddles of standing water due to recent heavy rains (link in Spanish) following Maria are primed to spread disease.

Carmen Deseda, Puerto Rico’s state epidemiologist, says the island has counted 74 suspected cases of leptospirosis, a bacterial illness transmitted through water, food, or soil contaminated by infected animal urine, this month so far. The illness causes symptoms such as high fever and vomiting and can be fatal without antibiotic treatment. The island normally reports only 60 cases a year, according to Deseda.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still in the process of confirming those cases, but less involved tests by local labs have identified 57 leptospirosis cases already, according to local paper Primera Hora.

“The young people and children who are using areas where there is pooled water, which can be diluted with mouse urine, they can contract leptospirosis there,” Deseda told local news outlet Metro (Spanish.) She expects an increase in cases of diseases transmitted through contaminated water, given Puerto Rico’s situation.

Lack of electricity is exacerbating the problem. Without it, water treatment plants around the island remain offline. Boiling water is tough. And without widespread access to broadcast and online channels, spreading the word about contaminated water and the precautions the public should take is nearly impossible.

Though federal and local responders continue to distribute bottled water, many Puerto Ricans, particularly in hard-hit secluded areas, have been left to their own devices. Some have been using water from springs to bathe; others have been forced to use water from sewage-laden rivers, or tap it from a site deemed last year by the federal government to be contaminated with hazardous waste.

Jeremy Konyndyk, an expert in the global spread of disease at the Washington, DC-based Center for Global Development, described the situation as “textbook vulnerability to major waterborne disease outbreak” in a tweet thread, ending it with incredulity:

This all is the sort of hypothetical humanitarian scenario I teach about…never thought I'd see it on US soil. /end

— Jeremy Konyndyk (@JeremyKonyndyk) October 17, 2017

A few choice words from United’s CEO has investors calling for his resignation

Fri, 2017-10-20 13:25

Quarterly earnings calls are a numbing ritual of the corporate business world. Executives recite dry numbers and offer sunny assurances of continued growth. Analysts ask about financial minutiae, to ferret out details to help them predict future earnings.

But every once in a while, the veneer cracks, something unexpected happens, and earnings calls justify their existence.

That happened this week on the call of United Continental Holdings, parent of the beleaguered United Airlines, when analysts pressed for details about its promised turnaround and grew increasingly frustrated at the lack of transparency. CEO Oscar Munoz, already under fire for his clumsy handling of United’s forced removal of a passenger from an overbooked plane, begged for patience.

“I know everybody is getting scared about the fact that we are not going to give these numbers,” he said at one point. “[W]e have a very, very large company, with a lot of places that we are digging into. Let us do a little bit more of that work, and when we come out of it, we will be able to sort of provide you some better information around what we are thinking.”

In the carefully scripted world of corporate communications, United’s lack of clarity set off an earthquake. The shares tumbled as much as 10% and investors are now reportedly calling—loudly—for a shakeup of management. As Bloomberg notes in its story about the earnings-call debacle:

Before the call, “we had heard rumblings from the investment community about another potential management change at United Continental,” Helane Becker, an analyst at Cowen & Co., said in a note to clients. After the call, “they aren’t rumblings, but full-fledged screams.”

United is just the latest company to flub its earnings call this year. Sprint recently confused and frustrated analysts by promising that investor Masayoshi Son, CEO of Softbank, would join the call, only for his line to keep disconnecting—an awkward situation for any company, much less one in telecommunications. On a Snap call in August, an analyst who didn’t mute his phone could be heard questioning CEO Evan Speigel’s confused explanation about its push-notification policy. Brandon Ross of BTIG was overheard saying, “I didn’t even understand his response!”

When it comes to earnings calls, CEOs are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. While Wall Street punishes mistakes, research suggests investors appreciate candor and want to hear spontaneous remarks from executives. Some tech companies are abandoning the scripted remarks, while at least one analyst is calling for an end to earnings calls altogether.

As a business reporter who has sat, glassy eyed, through dozens upon dozens of earnings calls, I understand the desire to kill them. But there can be value to hearing directly from executives, if only to catch them screwing up.

Managers could learn a lot from Larry David—seriously

Fri, 2017-10-20 12:59

The comedian Larry David is the master of the micro. His HBO show Curb Your Enthusiasm, like the hit TV show Seinfeld, which he co-created, moves between the tiny moments in life, like those few seconds in which you allow someone to step ahead of you from an elevator, and that person then proceeds to sign in before you at the doctor’s office. The comedic effect is always sublime. Even the sweeping storylines that stretch across a season or even an episode never hold the same comic tension as David lingering in a moment, questioning why we do, or don’t do, something that for most people would be the norm.

As it happens, there’s a management lesson in David’s behavior, exactly because of the tight focus he gives moments like this one, when he decides to call out a gelato store customer for sample abuse.

It’s even funnier when David needs help later on from the dean of an elite private school—and the dean turns out to be the sampler.


Keith Yamashita, founder and chairman of the boutique consulting firm SYPartners, has been applying what I’ll call “the Larry David lens” to the work world. An illustration on the firm’s website shows how the big, strategic goal of achieving diversity and inclusion is really fostered through “micro-choices, micro-actions, and micro-behaviors.”

Macro policies and company mission statements about diversity are also essential, SYPartners argues, but it’s the day-to-day decisions about who gets invited to a meeting, whose opinions are sought out, and what assumptions are made about people—particularly by leaders in an organization—that determine the fate of the mission.

When we don’t bring awareness to these moments, we’re likely to continue repeating the same patterns of behavior, emphasizing, socializing, and promoting the people we know best (people who usually look a lot like ourselves).

In the SY illustration, which was the focus of a seminar at the recent Life@Work conference in Brooklyn, Yamashita calls out specific moments in a day, suggesting managers stop and ask themselves: “Who’s missing?” at a meeting, or “What am I assuming about this person?” during a job interview, or “What judgments am I passing on others?” when listening to different people’s analysis or ideas.

These kinds of questions ought to be on a manager’s (or anyone’s) mind virtually hourly, to help us reduce the effects of unconscious bias and properly calibrate the different levels of attention and respect we show daily to those around us.

One question Yamashita suggests asking when you encounter people is “Who do I acknowledge, and who do I not see?” That’s just the kind of thing David, an excellent bookkeeper of social slights and small injustices, would notice:

Indeed, more offices could use discussions about things like missing hellos (or “the double hello” and “the double goodbye”).

That said, Larry David, the character, would probably make all the wrong decisions in an actual corporate office. But we know he would at least be conscious of all of these pivot points and matters of etiquette that communicate subtle messages.

Management coaches talk a lot about developing “mindfulness” about the way we behave—they advise “being present” in the moment and truly noticing, and respecting, all the people you work with. But mindfulness can feel like a squishy concept.

Here’s a more concrete goal for managers: Become just a little obsessive and develop your inner Larry David.

Bitcoin’s latest record high makes Satoshi Nakamoto the 247th richest person in the world

Fri, 2017-10-20 12:57

Bitcoin recorded a new high today, hitting $5,991 on the benchmark CoinDesk price index. On major exchanges like Bitfinex and Bitstamp, the price briefly crossed $6,000 intraday.

While bitcoin bulls celebrate yet another milestone for the cryptocurrency, there is one major beneficiary to what has essentially been a nine year-long rally: bitcoin’s inventor, Satoshi Nakamoto. The pseudonymous creator is estimated to own 980,000 bitcoins, amassed from mining the cryptocurrency in its early days. The stash has remained untouched for years.

What is that worth today? At $6,000 a coin, Satoshi would be worth $5.9 billion. That would put him/her/they at number 247 on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people. Satoshi is just below Wal-Mart heiress Ann Walton Kroenke and Samsung scion Jay Lee; and above Alibaba’s Joseph Tsai and María Asunción Aramburuzabala, who inherited the Corona brewery fortune.

That’s a good return for writing a piece of nine-year-old, open-source software. And arguably, even $5.9 billion is too small a reward for inventing “magic internet money.”

Rank Name Net Worth Age Source 238 Marian Ilitch $6 billion 84 Pizza, sports team 238 Ann Walton Kroenke 6.0 68 Wal-Mart 238 Jay Y. Lee 6.0 49 Samsung 238 Pan Zhengmin 6.0 47 Electronics 238 Finn Rausing 6.0 62 Packaging 238 Kirsten Rausing 6.0 65 Packaging 238 Dennis Washington 6.0 83 Construction, mining 238 Xu Chuanhua 6.0 82 Chemicals, logistics 247 Satoshi Nakamoto 5.9 Software 247 Francis Choi 5.9 70 Real estate 247 Erivan Haub 5.9 85 Retail 247 Wei Jianjun 5.9 53 Automobiles 250 Gautam Adani 5.8 55 Commodities, ports 250 Mike Adenuga 5.8 64 Telecom, oil 250 Maria Asuncion Aramburuzabala 5.8 54 Beer, investments 250 Daniel Gilbert 5.8 55 Quicken Loans 250 John Gokongwei, Jr. 5.8 91 Food and beverage 250 Gong Hongjia 5.8 52 Investments 250 Charles Johnson 5.8 84 Money management 250 Ian & Richard Livingstone 5.8 – Real estate 250 Hiroshi Mikitani 5.8 52 Online retail 250 Augusto & Giorgio Perfetti 5.8 – Candy 250 Joseph Tsai 5.8 53 E-commerce

Source: Forbes

Top figures in Trump’s White House are making war with North Korea sound inevitable

Fri, 2017-10-20 12:47

When US national security advisor HR McMaster spoke yesterday (Oct.19), press reports focused on his strained relationship with senator John McCain and details an attack in Niger that killed four US soldiers earlier this month.

But far more consequential were McMaster’s vehement remarks on North Korea.

Asked at the Foundation for Defense and Democracy about Pyongyang’s decision not to negotiate with Washington until it has full nuclear capability, McMaster insisted that the peninsular had to denuclearize:

The president has been extremely clear on his perspective on North Korea. He’s not going to accept this regime threatening the United States with a nuclear weapon. He just won’t accept it. There are those who have said, ‘What about accept and deter?’ Well, accept and deter is unacceptable. So this puts us in a situation where we are in a race to resolve this, short of military action.

In addition to dismissing the strategy of deterring nuclear weapon use, McMaster similarly wrote off “freeze-for-freeze”—in which the US would stop military exercises near the peninsula, in exchange for Pyongyang pausing its missile program. Most experts see freeze-for-freeze as a viable diplomatic route to avoid conflict.

Richard Haass, the influential president of the Council on Foreign Relations think tank and onetime advisor to former secretary of state Colin Powell, tweeted in response:

NSA McMaster ruled out deterrence & rejected an achievable goal for diplomacy. odds of conflict w NK far higher than is generally understood

— Richard N. Haass (@RichardHaass) October 19, 2017

Trump admin rejection of anything short of NK denuclearization irresponsible as it will not happen & other outcomes (freeze) better than war

— Richard N. Haass (@RichardHaass) October 20, 2017

The tone of impatience from McMaster—seen as one of the most rational actors in the administration—also has top analysts worried. McMaster echoed his boss Donald Trump by repeatedly saying “we’re running out of time” and bemoaning “long, drawn-out negotiations during which North Korea continues to advance their missile program.” He also seemed to talk down dealmaking as ineffectual:

“Long drawn-out negotiations…then deliver a nuclear agreement, and North Korea then immediately breaks that agreement. That agreement: what does it do? It locks in the status quo as the new normal—you can’t afford it any more. As [UN] Ambassador Haley said, ‘We’ve been kicking this can down the road and we’re out of road.’

The US won’t make progress toward denuclearization without patient diplomacy, says Joel S. Wit, who had senior roles in North Korea nuclear negotiations under president Bill Clinton. “[McMaster] wants denuclearization, but the point is he wants it overnight somehow. It’s not magically going to happen overnight,” Wit said in a phone interview. “If not overnight, that means you need to negotiate, reach agreements, be in phases—and that takes time. It doesn’t sound like [the administration] is really interested in taking time.”

It seems McMaster’s strategy is either “laying the groundwork” for some kind of military action, an attempt to spook China into taking heavy economic sanctions, or both, says Wit, a senior fellow at Johns Hopkins and Columbia University.

Limited military action may include shooting a North Korean missile test out of the sky, he explains. “If we destroy it over the Pacific, [the White House] thinks ‘Oh gee, they’re not gonna respond because it’s off the Korean peninsula. But I think that’s an extremely dangerous kind of thinking,” Wit says. “We don’t really know what wouldn’t provoke a response. I think it’s more likely than not that there will be response from North Korea.”

Even the Trump White House seems far from a consensus on McMaster’s strategy. Defense secretary Jim Mattis’ views aren’t publicly clear, while secretary of state Rex Tillerson is bent on diplomacy—despite Trump undermining those efforts.

Stitch Fix is going public, anticipating a future too busy for shopping

Fri, 2017-10-20 12:38

Stitch Fix has a simple value proposition. “We save our clients time by doing the shopping,” it said in its IPO filing yesterday (Oct. 19).

It does it by regularly sending boxes of clothing to women and men based on a style survey they fill out. They’re able to try the clothes at home, and pay for only those they keep. The rest they simply mail back. The company isn’t the first to try this model in fashion, but it’s become the most successful, thanks to its algorithmic, data-driven approach to picking just the right clothes for its customers. (Well, some of the time anyway.)

The system is working well enough that Stitch Fix did $977.1 million in clothing sales and fees last year, and had about 2.2 million active clients through July of this year, according to its IPO paperwork. It didn’t say how much it hopes to raise, but rumor holds that the company expects to be valued between $3 billion and $4 billion.

Americans don’t actually seem more pressed for time than in the past, but the company’s appeal lies in eliminating most of the decision-making involved in buying clothes. “It’s not hard to imagine who might benefit from these boxes,” the New York Times wrote (paywall) just a few days ago in a story about Stitch Fix and similar services. “They’re an affordable solution for busy parents, busy workers, people who don’t like trying on clothes in stores, or anyone who wants to upgrade their wardrobe but doesn’t have an eye for style or the budget to hire a professional stylist.”

Stitch Fix is unique in the way it uses algorithms to decide what to send you, and the more customers it has, the better those algorithms should get. As it explained in its filing:

The vast majority of our client data is provided directly and explicitly by our clients, rather than inferred, scraped or obtained from other sources. We also gather extensive merchandise data, such as inseam, pocket shape, silhouette and fit. This large and growing data set provides the foundation for proprietary algorithms that we use throughout our business, including those that predict purchase behavior, forecast demand, optimize inventory and enable us to design new apparel. We believe our data science capabilities give us a significant competitive advantage, and as our data set grows, our algorithms become more powerful.

Human stylists are also involved in the decision making, but to illustrate the power of its algorithms, the company offered the example of a particular knit top with an embroidered neck line. The top, it says, “is purchased 52% of the time it is included in a Fix”—that’s the company’s term for the box of items it sends out. “However, for a particular client for whom it is well suited, our algorithms may predict she is 80% likely to purchase the item if it were included in her Fix.”

The company is even using algorithms to design its own clothes, and says those products are some of its best sellers.

One concern to potential investors is that its growth, while still strong, is slowing. Though that’s probably to be expected as the company gets bigger.

It can now also count Amazon among its competition. Over the summer, the e-commerce steamroller introduced Prime Wardrobe, which lets shoppers order clothes for free and pay only for what they keep. If the fate of food-box service Blue Apron is any lesson, that’s not great news for Stitch Fix.

This video shows how valuable your personal data really are

Fri, 2017-10-20 12:35

Every time we search the web, part of us is traded. Or more specifically, our personal data are traded. Most of us agree this is a fair trade because we get so much for free in return for allowing advertisers target us. We might still feel that we have control because we adjust privacy settings on Facebook or report ads on Google because it “knows too much.” But most of us don’t think about what’s going on behind the scenes with all this data. This is a problem because it means we don’t fully understand how the web-advertising infrastructure increases the risk of our data being leaked beyond where we intend. And anytime data leaks it can potentially end up with someone who intends to use it maliciously.

In the milliseconds it takes to load a website, ad exchanges send personal data about the person about to view it (you) to their partners—many hundreds of partners. They all decide (in milliseconds) whether you’re a good target for an ad and, if you are, what they are prepared to pay. There’s an (almost) instantaneous bidding process and—hey, presto—an ad appears on the page. This ecosystem is now so big that it’s not possible to be assured they all treat your data properly. Adding to the problem is that some ads contain code that allows another company to track you.

This video, by advertising-technology firm PageFair, shows how your data propagates—and potentially leaks—in the ad ecosystem.

In May 2018, the European Union General Data Protection Regulations come into force, regulating user permissions in this behind-the-scenes flow of personal data. The new regulations will mean that companies will have to give users a choice about how much they want to be tracked. They then have to make sure this happens all the way through the ecosystem or face significant fines (up to 4% of global revenue).

In Europe, at least, these “opt-in” terms will likely make internet users far more conscious of who really profits from the use of their personal data.

The White House held a fancy party for its new DHS nominee, then sent the agency the bill

Fri, 2017-10-20 12:31

The White House nominated a new head to the Department of Homeland Security, the agency that secures US borders and handles natural disasters, with unusual fanfare. “It’s hard to imagine a more qualified candidate for this critical position,” Donald Trump said about Kirstjen Nielsen during a glitzy ceremony in the East room the afternoon of Oct. 12.

The room was packed, video of the event shows—members of Trump’s cabinet, high-ranking officials from the DHS, and lobbyists filled rows of chairs and lined the walls. After a brief speech by Trump and Nielsen, the crowd gave her a standing ovation, than gathered for cocktails as a band played under the room’s ornate chandeliers.


Presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway talks to White House chief of staff John Kelly at the Oct. 12 party.

Attendees included commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, secretary of state Rex Tillerson, economic advisor Gary Cohn, presidential advisors Kellyanne Conway and Jared Kushner, and big names from K Street, Washington’s lobbying corridor, like Stewart Verdery, whose Monument Policy represents Fortune 500 clients like Amazon, Toyota, and Northrup Grumman.

Afterward, the White House billed the DHS $8,000 for the party, a White House advisor told Quartz. The White House typically charges catering and event costs to a department’s budget if the event is seen as “furthering the mission” of the agency, he said.

Nielsen’s nomination surprised top officials at the DHS, because she doesn’t have a loyal following within the over 200,000 strong organization, and no experience managing a large agency. The lobbyist-studded party, and the related bill, were seen as a further affront.

“You don’t have a presidential rollout loaded with people from K Street,” said one former DHS official, who worked in the George W. Bush administration and said he had spoken to several people at the agency troubled by the party. The DHS has a $41 billion annual budget, and works with a wide range of industries, from construction to internet security, so the White House shouldn’t be welcoming in corporate lobbyists, he said.

DHS officials were also upset at being pulled from doing vital work in departments like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is handling post-hurricane recovery in Texas and Puerto Rico, the former DHS official said. “Who wants to have a cocktail at three in the afternoon?” he added.

Inviting corporate lobbyists to the East room, where presidents traditionally hold press conferences with world leaders, is unusual, ethics experts said, but in character for the Trump presidency.

“This administration has been very clear about their relationships with lobbyists or industry,” whether they were hiring them for jobs in the White House or consulting them on policy, said Meredith McGehee, a strategic advisor with the Campaign Legal Center, a non-profit that advocates for more ethical behavior in the federal government. “They have no qualms,” about looking like they have a cozy relationship with lobbyists, she said.

Because news of Nielsen’s nomination had leaked the night before, the White House decided the president’s pre-planned announcement “was an opportunity to build support around her confirmation,” said the White House advisor. The reception was “an opportunity to celebrate her nomination,” he said, and for the homeland security community to come together.

The plague has already killed nearly 100 people in Madagascar

Fri, 2017-10-20 12:24

Nearly 100 people have died from a plague outbreak on the island of Madagascar.

The death toll from the outbreak has reached 94, with more than 1,100 suspected cases reported, the World Health Organzation told French news agency AFP. With the outbreak making its way through the capital city Antananarivo and other urban areas, medical workers are bracing for even more cases. Panic has already begun to spread.

Just days ago, the WHO reported 74 deaths, and in early October the number of deaths was at 33—an indication of just how quickly the illness has spread. Many of the deaths have been due to more contagious pneumonic plague, transmitted from animals to humans through bacteria. It is the most virulent of the strains, showing flu-like symptoms as it infects the lungs. It is spread to other humans via droplets in the air. If left untreated, it is almost certainly deadly within 72 hours.

The outbreak also contains cases of bubonic plague, the less contagious form caused by bites from fleas and infects the lymphatic system. The WHO has sent 1.3 million doses of antibiotics, enough to treat about 5,000 patients and protect a further 100,000.

Still, that has not allayed people’s fears, as they line up to buy masks. The disease has moved from the slums to the more affluent parts of the capital, the Guardian reports. A poor health system and environmental conditions amenable to rodents and fleas make the country prone to outbreak. In 2014, the island suffered an outbreak that killed 79 people and in 2015, 10 people.

The infectious disease, associated with the Black Death of the Middle Ages, has begun to reappear almost annually since 1980 on the impoverished tropical island, according to the World Health Organization. In the last here years, however, the number of cases during the plague season of September to April, has steadily increased.

The World Health Organiszation says it has identified approximately 20 countries vulnerable to plague outbreaks, including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Peru. In the last five years, more than 3,000 people have died from the plague around the world, an indication that the illness is not to be resigned to the history books.

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While Elon Musk is firing his US workers, he’s giving the Germans a huge pay rise

Fri, 2017-10-20 12:24

Soon after Tesla fired hundreds of workers at its plant in Fremont, California, it managed to settle a problem with its German staff that could have been far, far worse.

Elon Musk got a rude wake-up call when Tesla bought German firm Grohmann, which builds machines for car plants, earlier this year. Musk needed the expertise of Grohmann, now called Tesla Grohmann, to help him ramp up production of the Model 3. Instead, he found himself embroiled in a fight with its workers and their union, Germany’s mighty IG Metall.

Things got off to a bad start when the boss of Grohmann resigned shortly after the takeover, and workers threatened to strike. They complained that once Tesla was their sole client—they used to supply a variety of automakers—they would face job insecurity. On top of that, they said they were getting paid 30% less than union rates.

Tesla initially offered each employee a one-off €1,000 ($1,090) bonus, an extra €150 a month, and €10,000 of Tesla shares distributed over four years, but IG Metall wasn’t satisfied and wanted to move a step further—to collective bargaining, where the union would negotiate wages on the company’s behalf.

Musk has now agreed directly with the Tesla Grohmann workers’ council to a new wage structure of “fair and competitive” salaries, avoiding IG Metall’s demand that he adopt the standard tariff levels for the metal and electronic industry.

Tesla will reportedly ramp up wages by about 30% and safeguard jobs till 2022. The previous offer of $10,000 in Tesla stock has also reportedly been accepted. “We have developed our own remuneration structure in very pragmatic discussions,” Uwe Herzig, the head of the workers’ council at Tesla Grohmann Automation, told Die Welt (link in German).

Musk’s negotiations directly with the workers council have helped him bring the standoff with the IG Metall union to a close. It couldn’t have come at a better time for them after the Fremont layoffs. Indeed, it seems Musk can treat workers at home much worse than he can in Germany.

Read this next: How Elon Musk learns faster and better than everyone else

LaCroix’s CEO went on a rant in a bizarre, ALL-CAPS press release

Fri, 2017-10-20 12:24

The maker of LaCroix Sparkling Water— a US millennial cult-favorite—has seen its shares fall by 23% since their peak on Sept. 11, according to Bloomberg.

So is the seltzer bubble about to pop? Nick Caporella, National Beverage Corp.’s 81-year-old CEO, sure doesn’t think so, and let the world know it in a star-spangled, all-caps “news” release put out yesterday titled “FIZZ GROWS STRONGER!!” (FIZZ is National Beverage Corp.’s stock ticker.)

Caporella went on the offensive with a statement that, much like his company’s flagship product, seems to break every corporate-design rule in the book:

FIZZ revenues have grown 60% over the last ten years,” Caporella declared, “ALL ORGANIC GROWTH – NO ACQUISITIONS! Organic growth has now ACCELERATED! ….First quarter 2018 – BEST EVER! Second quarter growth – STEADFAST!

“No TYPICAL beverage company is delivering the fundamental financial performance of FIZZ!” he added, without providing any specific sales numbers or financial data.

Caporella blamed analysts for encouraging short-sellers—who bet on a fall in the stock price—calling them “perpetrators stimulating self-serving movement by stating falsehoods, creating rumors and deliberately manipulating FIZZ value.”

“If you have the opinion that I, Nick A. Caporella, am angrily exercised while extremely fortunate to be guiding FIZZ, your opinion is quite accurate!” added the CEO, who we imagine crushes a passionfruit LaCroix while he fires off cap-locked screeds to investors.

But the drop in share price isn’t unexpected; financial experts questioned whether the company was overvalued earlier this month, analysts have cautioned against the “flat-to-declining performance of the company’s other brands.”

Caporella also owns almost 74% of shares, according to Bloomberg data, so there is only a relatively small number available to short.

Some analysts think National Beverage could soon be the target of a bidding war between Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and other beverage giants, especially since LaCroix may soon land on shelves at Walmart and convenience stores.

We may clear out those shelves before you have a chance to get there.

Amber Tamblyn’s support of Charlyne Yi over husband David Cross is a lesson in sisterhood

Fri, 2017-10-20 12:15

Our culture expects women to apologize for a lot of things—from the way we talk to the way we dress. But why stop at apologizing for our own existence? Women are also held accountable for their husbands’ actions, from Puritanical Americans all the way up to Hillary Clinton, under the assumption that we are simply extensions of our partners rather than people in our own right.

Now American actress Amber Tamblyn is challenging this narrative. This week, comedian Charlyne Yi accused Tamblyn’s husband, stand-up comedian David Cross, of making racist jokes when Yi and Cross first met. Tamblyn responded by expressing her support for Yi—while also clarifying that she’s not responsible for her husband’s bad behavior.

As Hunter Harris reports in Vulture, “Earlier this week, Yi recalled the time she met Cross: He made fun of her pants and asked her if she spoke English, saying, ‘Ching-chong-ching-chong.’ Cross said that he remembered the encounter differently, and that he was simply doing a racist Southern character from his stand-up routine.”

Soon after Yi’s accusation, Tamblyn, who frequently speaks out against sexism and racism, received a slew of Twitter messages asking her to denounce her husband’s actions. Tamblyn took to Twitter to support Yi—while also criticizing the idea that women are responsible for their partners’ wrongdoings.

I spoke to @charlyne_yi and her feelings/safety are all that matter to me. We’re good. I owe you nothing, Twitter. You’re lucky to have me.

— Amber Tamblyn (@ambertamblyn) October 20, 2017

I’ll say it again. I spoke to Charlyne. I believe her. I’m about HER feelings/emotional health right now, not Twitter’s. That okay with you? https://t.co/aQU5dGqKuY

— Amber Tamblyn (@ambertamblyn) October 20, 2017

I will say this for the last time. Do not hold women accountable for the actions, decisions or words of their partners. Don’t. Do it.

— Amber Tamblyn (@ambertamblyn) October 20, 2017

Having experienced sexual harassment on set throughout her career, Tamblyn is no stranger to being patronized and ignored by men in high places. As she writes in a recent New York Times op-ed, “I’m Done With Being Not Believed”:

“For women in America who come forward with stories of harassment, abuse and sexual assault, there are not two sides to every story, however noble that principle might seem. Women do not get to have a side. They get to have an interrogation. Too often, they are questioned mercilessly about whether their side is legitimate. Especially if that side happens to accuse a man of stature, then that woman has to consider the scrutiny and repercussions she’ll be subjected to by sharing her side.”

Tamblyn’s response to Yi shows that she remains committed to supporting survivors of harassment and assault, and sets a strong example of how all of us ought to respond to such allegations. She reached out to listen to Yi rather than snapping to the defense of her husband, then clearly stated that she believes Yi and supports her. In this way, she’s demonstrating the importance of amplifying women’s stories about discrimination—even if the perpetrator is a loved one.

But Tamblyn is also pushing back on the impulse to deflect men’s responsibility for their actions by turning the spotlight on women. This is just another way of passing the buck—and part of a larger problem in which our culture constantly pushes women to second-guess their actions and instincts. As Tamblyn writes, “Disbelief is not just about men disbelieving us. It is about our own disbelief in ourselves.”

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Silicon Valley’s march to reshape American culture just got clearer with a near-invisible store in Chicago

Fri, 2017-10-20 11:31

Apple has a new store in Chicago, and if you look closely, you might even see it.

Of course, Apple fully intended the store’s near-invisible aesthetic, as the company does with everything it designs. With its 32-foot glass walls that blend seamlessly into the riverfront’s landscape, the store, dubbed Michigan Avenue, is more ethereal membrane than tangible building, more hip hangout spot than boring retail.

The $27 million landmark is the latest, most elegant example of Apple’s “Town Square” concept, a reboot of their iconic glass-box store. Inside, the Genius Bar has been swapped for “Genius Grove,” “The Forum” carves out a space for seminars and sessions, “The Boardroom,” for business advice and training. Outside, “The Plaza” welcomes guests with 24-hour outdoor seating and complementary Wi-Fi.

“We really wanted to create the ultimate Town Square for Chicago and for the Midwest. There’s a little of my soul here,” Apple’s retail head Angela Ahrendts, the mastermind behind the idea, told CNET.

The store also reboots the Chicago waterfront, which was formerly “underutilized” because of a “cliff-hitch” in the previous plaza’s design, Stefan Behling, an architect at Foster + Partners, the firm who took on the project’s design, told the Chicago Tribune.

Apple’s foray into city redesign speaks to an emerging trend of tech giants taking over cities. In its call for proposals, due today, for the location of its second headquarters, for example, Amazon has cities clambering over one another in desperate attempts to outbid everyone else. And it’s no wonder. “HQ2” promises to bring its host 50,000 jobs and a $5 billion injection into the economy and infrastructure.

With its over $800 billion market cap today, Apple has long been the most valued company in the world. Tech companies have an outsized share of the economy’s capital, and with that, their influence over cities will only grow.

Xi Jinping’s speech has received at least a billion claps in Tencent’s latest mobile game

Fri, 2017-10-20 11:09

WeChat users have collectively clapped over 1 billion times to Xi Jinping’s speech using Tencent’s latest mobile game, “Excellent Speech.”

What are the odds of war with North Korea? From one in four to one in five according to a former CIA director

Fri, 2017-10-20 11:07

A war with North Korea is possible but not probable, according to former CIA director John Brennan. He put the chances at “one in four or one in five.”


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