Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Large majority of Americans see some medical benefits in use of marijuana

A new study by the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that a large percentage of Americans have a favorable attitude to medical marijuana even though the study claims that the beliefs are not supported yet by scientific research.

Vast majority of respondents see some medical benefits for marijuana
For the study the authors surveyed about 16,000 Americans about marijuana. 81 percent of those who responded believed that marijuana had at least one medical benefit, in areas such as pain management, treating diseases, and alleviating mental health problems. Both medical and recreational marijuana is growing in popularity in the US and elsewhere.
More research needs to be done on benefits of medical marijuana
There is not high quality clinical evidence marijuana does all the things that people believe it does. Although the research is promising, it is not rock solid.
Neurologist Steven Novella notes that most published studies are poorly designed. The authors note: "As of 2013 there were fewer than 20 randomized controlled trials testing the benefits of marijuana. — the gold standard for scientific research — have tested the benefits of marijuana, according to the American Medical Association.) Some don’t necessarily show marijuana doing better than placebo, and many don’t investigate whether marijuana actually reduces symptoms or if it just makes people care less. There’s a lot we don’t know."
The reason for the dearth of research is that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) makes it extremely difficult to research marijuana. Scientists who want to study marijuana must use government samples.
Two years ago, the agency said it would provide universities with more licenses to do marijuana research but the DEA has not granted these licenses and is not accepting new ones. it would seem clear that the federal US government simply does not want to see evidence that medical marijuana is useful. This would increase pressure to legalize it at the Federal level.
The study concludes: "These are the kinds of policies that make it hard for us to see through claims flying in all directions. A few decades ago, we had Reefer Madness and propaganda about the overblown dangers of marijuana. Today, some have swung in the other direction, setting their sights on marijuana as a wonder drug with few downsides, even as rates of marijuana addiction are growing.
"The only way to have a clear-eyed view of both the benefits and harms of marijuana is by making it easier to study; by extension, that’s the only way for us to cut through the hype and make the most informed decisions."
Many US states, Canada and other countries have legalized medical marijuana
Around the globe medical marijuana and even recreational marijuana is legal. As Wikipedia notes: "Countries that have effectively legalized recreational cannabis are Canada, Spain, and Uruguay – plus the Netherlands where possession remains technically illegal but use and sale is tolerated in designated coffeeshops. In the United States, 9 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of cannabis.
"Countries that have legalized the medical use of cannabis include Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Peru, and Poland. Others have more restrictive laws that only allow the use of certain cannabinoid drugs, such as Sativex or Marinol. In the United States, 31 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the medical use of cannabis, but at the federal level its use remains prohibited for any purpose."
While no doubt many are hyping the use of marijuana for ailments that it is doubtful that it cures surely there are many studies even in the U.S. that show its medical benefits. Why cannot the US use foreign studies of the benefits the drug rather than require more U.S. studies?
The Harvard Health Blog has one study. The Annals of Internal Medicine Study can be found here. A lot of support for medical marijuana comes from personal experience as illustrated by the enclosed video.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Toyota increases investment in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles

Toyota Motor Company is increasing its investment in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCV). It is designing lower-cost, mass-market passenger cars and sport utility vehicles and even pushing the technology into trucks and buses to produce economies of scale.

Toyota wants to make FCV's cheaper
Yoshikazu Tanaka, chief engineer of the Mirai said in an interview with Reuters: "We’re going to shift from limited production to mass production, reduce the amount of expensive materials like platinum used in FCV components, and make the system more compact and powerful.”
Many automakers and industry experts have mostly dismissed plans to expand the production of fuel cell vehicles (FCV) as being commercially unviable but Toyota hopes to prove them wrong. Toyota is busy cranking up improvements for its Miral hydrogen fuel cell vehicle expected to be released in the early 2020s. It has been around for some time as the appended photo shows.
Toyota planning new models of FCVs
The company also plans to introduce other models including SUVs, pick-up trucks, and commercial trucks beginning around 2025, a source with knowledge of the automaker’s plans said. However Toyota would not comment on its specific plans for the future. It has already developed prototypes of small delivery vans, and also large transport trucks.
Ikuo Ota, manager of the new business planning for fuel cell projects at Toyota said: "We are going to use as many parts from existing passenger cars and other models as possible in fuel cell trucks. Otherwise, we won’t see the benefits of mass production.”
Toyota expects improved performance from their FCVs
Toyota hopes to increase the driving range of its next Mirai model to 700-750 kilometers from its present approximately 500 kilometers. By 2025 it hopes to hit 1,000 kilometers far beyond present electric vehicle ranges.
Toyota continues to believe in potential of FCVs
Toyota has a strong belief that within the next 100 years hydrogen will become a key source of clean energy. The company has been busy developing FCVs since early in the 1990's. Hydrogen is the most abundant element and it also has the advantage of storing more energy than a battery of equivalent weight.
Production of Mirai has been quite limited
Mirai was world's first production FCV launched way back in 2014. However, it costs around $60,000 prior to any government incentives. There is an acute lack of refueling infrastructure. Less than six thousand have been sold around the world.
Forecasts see sale of FCV's to make up only 0.2 percent of world passenger car sales by 2027 whereas battery EVs are expected to be 11.7 percent. However Toyota is reported to think that the demand for the vehicles will strengthen as countries strongly committed to EV's such as China warm to the advantages of the technology. The company also sees the development of FCVs as a hedge against the possible scarcity of key EV battery materials such as cobalt.
For now the Mirai is hand-built in Toyota city producing only a few models a day. However, the company expects sales to rise to about 30,000 units annually after 2020 from about 3,000 now. To lower production costs the company will need to produce other models.
The company is also reducing other costs. Eri Ichikawa a fuel cell engineer said: "We’ve been able to decrease the platinum loading by 10 percent to 20 percent and deliver the same performance."
Fuel Cell Vehicles
 describes an FCV as follows: "A fuel cell vehicle (FCV) or fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) is a type of electric vehicle which uses a fuel cell, instead of a batt ery, or in combination with a battery or supercapacitor, to power its on-board electric motor. Fuel cells in vehicles generate electricity to power the motor, generally using oxygen from the air and compressed hydrogen. Most fuel cell vehicles are classified as zero-emissions vehicles that emit only water and heat. "
Fuel cells are being developed and tested in trucks, buses, boats, motorcycles and bicycles, as well as other kinds of vehicles.
As of 2017 there is only limited infrastructure support for FCVs with only 36 hydrogen fueling stations available in the US. However, more are planned particularly in California. However there are stations in Japan, Europe and elsewhere with more being planned. However, some critics question whether the technology will ever be able to compete with other zero emission technologies.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Facial recognition software generates 28 false positives linking US Congress members to mugshots

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) tested Amazon's facial recognition system by scanning all 535 members of the US Congress against 25,000 mugshots public mugshots. The test generated 28 false positives.

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None of the members were in mugshots. The Amazon system called Rekognition is already in use by some police departments.
The ACLU wants a moratorium on the use of Rekognition by police
ACLU said: “An identification — whether accurate or not — could cost people their freedom or even their lives. Congress must take these threats seriously, hit the brakes, and enact a moratorium on law enforcement use of face recognition.”
Amazon blames results on faulty calibration
An Amazon spokesperson said to Verge that the result was due to poor calibration. The ACLU tests were done using Amazon's default setting of 80 percent. However, the spokesperson said that for law enforcement applications at least a 95 percent application should be used as a false ID could have significant consequences.
The Amazon representative said: “80% confidence is an acceptable threshold for photos of hot dogs, chairs, animals, or other social media use cases. It wouldn’t be appropriate for identifying individuals with a reasonable level of certainty. it wouldn’t be appropriate for identifying individuals with a reasonable level of certainty.”
Yet, there is nothing in the setup process that enforces the recommendation meaning that there is nothing to prevent police from using the default setting.
Amazon reported a number of police depts. used Rekognition
The Orlando police in Florida used the system as a pilot project in real-time recognition. The system is sold as part of Amazon's Web Services. It can often cost less than $12 a month for an entire department. Although the Orlando project has ceased, the department continues to use the system.
ACLU is examining Recognition use by an Oregon Sheriff's Department
The latest ACLU experiment is designed in particular to examine Washington County's Sheriff's Department in Oregon's use of Recognition. The department has compared images against a database of as many as 300,000 mug shots.
Jacob Snow who organized the test for the ACLU of Northern California said: “It’s not hypothetical. This is a situation where Rekognition is already being used.”
Test shows signs of racial bias
11 of 28 or about 39 percent of false matches were of people of color and included civil rights leader Rep, John Lewis a Democrat of Georgia and five other members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Only 20 percent of the present Congress are people of color. People of color were obviously identified at a higher rate.
Problems with the use of Rekognition
In practice many facial recognition positives would be confirmed by a human before they led to concrete action such as an arrest. However, Snow said: “Imagine a police officer getting a false match for somebody with a concealed weapon arrest. There’s a real danger if that information is surfaced to the officer during a stop. It’s not hard to imagine it turning violent.”
Snow told Reuters:“Face surveillance is flawed, and it’s biased, and it’s dangerous.”
Nevertheless the outlook of Amazon was positive and touted a range of uses for Rekognition according to a spokeswoman for Amazon Web Services:“We remain excited about how image and video analysis can be a driver for good in the world.” She said the system could be used to help find lost children and preventing crimes. She noted that they system was usually used to narrow the field rather than make final decisions.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Multinationals engage in massive tax evasion through profit shifitng

Between 1985 and 2018 the average statutory global tax rate has fallen by more than half from 49 percent to just 24 percent. A main cause of this decline is profit shifting.

Profit shifting
The usual explanation for the decline in corporate tax revenue is that globalization forces countries to compete fiercely for productive capital. To do so they offer companies tax breaks to attract plant and equipment. This makes workers in a country more productive and boosts wages.
The theory is popular among policy makers. It may have been influential in leading the U.S. this year to cut corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 21 percent.
Today, however, most of the largest multinationals do not appear to move much capital to low-tax countries. Instead, they simply shift their profits in higher tax countries to low tax havens according to a new study.
Google and Bermuda
In 2016 Alphabet's Google, managed to make $19.2 billion in Bermuda, a small island nation in the Atlantic even though the Bermuda company has hardly any workers or assets but the corporate tax rate is zero. The appended video shows how this is done.
The decline in corporate tax rate is in large part the result of faulty policies in high-tax countries, not a necessary by-product of globalisation.
40 percent of multinational profits shifted to tax havens
New macroeconomic data enabled the study authors to make the estimate that 40 percent of multinational profits were shifted to tax havens. The authors were able to decompose national accounts aggregates and were able to make a new global database indicating where profits reported in each country by local versus foreign corporations. In turn the database enabled the authors to create the first comprehensive economic map of where profits are booked globally
Results of the analysis
In non-haven countries foreign multinationals are consistently less profitable than local firms. However, in tax havens the reverse is true and to a huge degree.
In tax havens the ratio of taxable profits to wages is typically around 30 to 40 percent but for foreign multinationals the ratio is many times higher. In Ireland for example it is as much as 800 percent. In correspondence to a capital share of corporate value-added this is 80 to 90 percent compared to just 25 percent in local firms. The statistics compiled could be used to monitor the impact of policies used to reduce tax avoidance.
The analysis shows that governments in the EU and developing countries are the prime losers of tax revenue as a result of profit shifting. It is estimated that tax avoidance by EU multinationals results in a loss of about 20 percent of tax revenue.
US multinationals most likely to shift profits
However, when the study looked at where firms that shift products have their headquarters, it was found that U.S. multinationals shifted their profits more than other countries. There are specific incentives for US companies to shift profits in the U.S. tax code and by some U.S. Treasury policies.
Tax havens flourish while non-haven countries take revenue from each other
The study argues that there are incentives in non-haven countries that have high taxes such as in Europe and elsewhere to focus on relocating profits from other countries but little incentive to combat the issue of shifting to tax havens.
Chasing profits in other countries that have high taxes is feasible and cheap since multinationals do not put up much resistance since it has little effect on their global tax bill. It can also be quick as there is already a framework in existence to settle disputes. In contrast, enforcement of tax laws on tax havens is difficult because information is lacking and hard to get. Enforcement is costly as corporations fight to keep their gains from the practice.
Not surprisingly the study found that the vast majority of enforcement effort was directed at other high-tax countries not tax havens.
The study's findings show that economic statistics such as GDP, corporate profits, trade balances, etc. are often warped because of profit shifting.
Tax havens
A tax haven is a jurisdiction with a very low rate of effective taxation although its advertised rates can be higher. Some also suggest that there should be a certain degree of secrecy. However, some jurisdictions such as Ireland with little secrecy but low levels of taxation are considered tax havens.
Some traditional tax havens such as Cayman Islands, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands and some others have taxation rates near zero. They have restricted bilateral tax treaties. However, some modern corporate tax havens have often significant "headline" tax rates and some of the broadest of bilateral tax treaties and include countries such as Ireland, the Netherlands, Singapore, and even the UK according to some studies.
Studies of tax revenue lost due to tax havens vary but the most credible range is from $100-250 billion U.S. per year. The capital left in tax havens can lead to capital base erosion. The estimates of capital held in tax havens is between $7 to 10 trillion or 10 percent of total global assets. At least 15 percent of all countries are tax havens.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Endangered species' protections could be limited under new US regulations

The US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) announced that they are rolling back regulations that are outlined in the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a law aimed at saving species that face extinction.

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The potential changes could limit the areas that can be named as critical habitats, and alter the types of protections that threatened species receive.
Threatened species receives a revised definition
At present threatened species are considered as those that are at risk of becoming endangered in the foreseeable future. The agencies will revise this to so that foreseeble future “extends only so far into the future as the [agencies] can reasonably determine” that the risk of extinction is probable." The US Fish and Wildlife Service plans to get rid of the ESA’s blanket rule that gave threatened species the same protections as endangered species.
The agencies also want to change how species are listed and delisted under the ESA
Now a species is delisted using the same criteria as had been used to put the species on the endangered or threatened list.
Greg Sheehan, principal deputy director of the US Fish and Wildlife service said: “One thing we heard over and over again was that ESA implementation was not consistent and often times very confusing to navigate. We are proposing these improvements to produce the best conservation results for the species while reducing the regulatory burden on the American people.”
Negative responses to the changes
Some environmental groups have already criticized the announcement. They argue that it will make it harder to designate new habitats for species threatened by climate change. Brett Hartl, who is government affairs director of the Center for Biological Diversity said: “This proposal turns the extinction-prevention tool of the Endangered Species Act into a rubber stamp for powerful corporate interests. Allowing the federal government to turn a blind eye to climate change will be a death sentence for polar bears and hundreds of other animals and plants.”
This would not be first attack on the ESA
The ESA was signed into law way back in 1973. The ESA has been credited with saving the bald eagle from extinction Nevertheless, according to CNN, it has been a target for Republican lawmakers in recent years who argue that the strict regulations have hampered logging, mining and oil industries. Just last year, Rep. Pete Olson, a Republican from Texas, introduced a bill that would make it more difficult for species to become listed as threatened under the law.
Another critical article claims: "The three proposed rules from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service would severely weaken protections for hundreds of endangered animals and plants across the country. They would also ensure that hundreds of imperiled species awaiting protection — like the monarch butterfly and the American wolverine — either never get safeguards or face additional, extinction-threatening delays. "
Other measures to weaken ESA introduced by the Trump administration
For the Trump administration it is open season on the ESA. A recent article in the New York Times notes: "The actions included a bill to strip protections from the gray wolf in Wyoming and along the western Great Lakes; a plan to keep the sage grouse, a chicken-size bird that inhabits millions of oil-rich acres in the West, from being listed as endangered for the next decade; and a measure to remove from the endangered list the American burying beetle, an orange-flecked insect that has long been the bane of oil companies that would like to drill on the land where it lives. "
Richard Pombo, a former congressman from California who tried to change the act more than a decade ago and is now a lobbyist for clients that include mining and water management companies said:“It’s probably the best chance that we have had in 25 years to actually make any substantial changes.”

Previously published in Digital Journal

New York State considers legalization of recreational marijuana after new report

The state of New York is considering whether it should legalize recreational marijuana as a new report comes out in favor of such a move.

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New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo requested the report back in January of 2018. The New York State Department of Health sent the "Regulated Marijuana Report" to the governor's office.
The study by New York State agencies and experts looked at peer-reviewed studies of marijuana, concerning public health, public safety and public budgets. The study also looked at how other states that have already legalized recreational marijuana have been doing.
The results just released provide a persuasive argument in favor of legalizing pot. The report says: “It has become less a question of whether to legalize but how to do so responsibly."
The Health Department claims in the report: “The positive effects of regulating an adult (21 and over) marijuana market in New York state outweigh the potential negative impacts.”
Marijuana popular in New York state
The report claims that one in ten New York state residents used marijuana in just the last month. Legalizing the drug could very well lead to gains in public health as regulating the sales would cut down on contaminants such as fungi, spores, mold, bacteria, heavy metals, pesticides and growth enhancers. The report claims that swapping out cannabis for pain relief with opioids would greatly reduce the chance of dependence and also eliminates the chance of a fatal overdose from the opioid-based medication.
Regulation could help reduce risks
The regulations would ban sales to anyone under 21, cracking down on the illegal market. The report suggests studying the effects of marijuana use on driving. Marijuana farms should be made secure.
The study claims: “The negative health consequences of marijuana have been found to be lower than those associated with alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs including heroin and cocaine.”
Legalizing marijuana will not create much more use
Some states that legalized marijuana did experience a spike in usage at first, but it quickly leveled out. Availability also makes it less likely that people will use dangerous synthetic marijuana that can cause seizures, and even death if mixed with the wrong drugs.
Fewer people will end up in jail with criminal records. Black people are four times as likely as white people to be arrested for possession.
The state would rake in tax revenue
The report estimates that each New York State resident buys between 6.6 and 10.2 ounces of marijuana per year illegally. If the cost is between $270 to $340 per ounce, that adds up to a $1.7 to $3.5 billion market. Between $173.3 to $542.3 million of this could end up as state revenue.
The report concludes: "Here’s the kicker that the report authors slipped in: if New York doesn’t legalize pot, but New Jersey does, all that dough will end up fueling New Jersey’s economy. What New Yorker would want that?"
Canada to legalize recreational marijuana.
On October 17, 2018 Canada will become the second nation in the world to legalize recreational marijuana. Uruguay was the first. It will become the first G7 and G20 to do so.
Although several U.S. states have made recreational marijuana legal and many have laws allowing medical marijuana, it is still regarded as a prohibited drug at the federal level.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Half of UK drivers between the ages of 25 to 34 would like to own an electric vehicle

A U.K. auto group survey shows that half the young drivers aged 25 to 34 in the U.K. said they would like to own an electric car (EV) — although they are put off by what they consider some of the barriers to owning an EV.

Age of drivers related to the desire for EVs
40 percent of younger drivers aged 16 to 24 said they would like to own an EV. 40 percent of those 35-44 also wanted an EV. However, of older drivers 45-54 only one third desired an electric car. Of drivers above 65 only one quarter wanted an EV.
35 percent of all the respondents claimed that they expected to own an EV within 10 years.
Edmund King the AA president said: “The younger generation in particular are ready to embrace the electric revolution.”
Lack of charging points could be a problem
The vast majority of those surveyed thought that there was a lack of public charging points. This could be a problem.
A report by RAC, a U.K. auto services company, said that the mass market spread of EVs could be restricted without widespread, reliable, and easy to use charging points.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling put out a range of proposals this week addressing the issue. This included requiring new homes and offices to install charging points as standard.
The Road to Zero strategy
The U.K. government is planning to ban the sale of both gas and diesel vehicles by 2040 as part of its Road to Zero strategy designed to cut down on high air pollution. Currently vehicles using alternative fuels including both hybrids and purely electric vehicles make up just 5.5 percent on the new car market.
The government has a target for 50 percent of all new vehicle sales to be in ultra-low emissions category for 2030.
King of the AA said: “In order to meet the government’s Road to Zero targets a concerted effort is required to demonstrate the benefits of electric vehicles and dispel some of the myths.The range, charging speed and charging point infrastructure are all on the increase. There needs to be a more concerted effort by us all to sell the benefits of electric vehicles.The electric vehicle revolution hasn’t perhaps taken off as quickly as we would have liked but now we have a firm commitment to the charging infrastructure.”
King also said: “The range, charging speed and charging point infrastructure are all on the increase. There needs to be a more concerted effort by us all to sell the benefits of electric vehicles. Drivers will also need to change their fuelling habits with the majority charging their EVs at night (at home) and then at their destinations. Ultimately outstanding, affordable, stylish EVs with a decent range will sell themselves. Massive savings can already be made on running and service costs, as well as the tax benefits.”
The AA
The poll was of 10,293 drivers. The AA is a U.K. motoring association that was founded way back in 1905. An original aim was to warn motorists of speed traps! However, it currently provides car insurance, driving lessons, loans, motoring advices, road maps as well as other services.. In 1999 it became a private company. In 2002 the AA Motoring Trust was created and it continues the public interest and road safety activities of AA.
The video appended was posted in August of 2015 so the situation would be much better now and the range of the Nissan Leaf used is short compared to many newer EVs.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Sunday, August 5, 2018

After tariffs imposed, Tesla raises prices on two models in China

According to Electrek and the Wall Street Journal Tesla has raised the price of its cars in China because of the country's retaliatory tariffs directed against the U.S. as a trade war between the two countries begins.

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The new tariffs will add 150,000 to 250,000 Yuan to the cost of Tesla's Models S and X as a 40 percent import tax is imposed. In U.S. dollars this is about $22,600 to $37,600.
New tax comes just after tariffs had been reduced
Just a few months ago China had reduced taxes on foreign vehicles from 25 to 15 percent. This had shaved about $14,000 off the price of Tesla's more expensive cars.
The auto industry is just one of many to be hurt by the trade war between the two countries. Car-makers rely on a global supply chain that spans the globe. Competition also results in thin margins making them vulnerable to the tariff war.
Some companies racing against the clock
Data from a number of U.S. ports show a surge both in vehicle exports and imports last May. In the US the three leading ports in the U.S. for importing autos unloaded 23,000 more cars this May than last year. Auto exports from Baltimore and Jacksonville in May were up 39 percent and 19 percent respectively according to port officials. Automakers other than Tesla have so far not put up their prices.
China is a big market for Tesla
Tesla is a relatively low volume operation and hence it is not surprising that it boosted its price early. China is a key market for Tesla as it accounts for about 17 percent of the company's total sales as of 2017.
Even with high price tags before the tariffs, Tesla models were selling well in China. The government is pushing to phase out fossil fuels and the large size of the market makes it a tempting one for electric car makers.
Avoiding import tariffs
Many automakers have decided to build their vehicles in China thus avoiding any tariffs. However, up to now China has required foreign companies to partner with local ones in joint ventures if they want to manufacture vehicles inside the country. This lowers profit margins and puts trade secrets at risk according to some firms.
Even so Tesla has spent the last two years attempting to create a GIgafactory in China. The Chinese government recently announced that would allow him to build the factory without a joint venture. The rules have been specifically changed for those who manufacture electric cars.
A recent article reports: "As per CEO Elon Musk’s recent comments, Tesla is expected to soon announce a project for a Gigafactory in China. Ahead of the announcement, Tesla has registered a new company in Shanghai’s Free-Trade Zone – seemingly in preparation for this new manufacturing project. The new business license has been reportedly approved on May 10th, according to Sina Finance. It was registered by Tesla’s Hong Kong subsidiary and approved by the Shanghai Pudong New Area Market Supervision board."
The article also confirms that new rules allow a foreign country to own 100 percent of a facility that makes electric cars.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Twitter stock declines after more than a million accounts suspended more than a million accounts per day

July 9)The recent decision by Twitter to suspend more than one million accounts per day caused fears that the number of monthly active users will fall. This has had a negative effect on the stock price which declined as much as 8.2 percent Monday morning.

A recent Digital Journal article reported the Washington Post as saying that over May and June Twitter had suspended 70 million accounts and some expressed concerns that the user base would be negatively impacted by the move even though many of the accounts were inactive. The suspensions were also often related to suspected malicious activity. The rate of suspensions has more than doubled that back in October of 2017.
Twitter stock still doing well this year
Jitendra Waray, intelligence analyst for Bloomberg said "the volume of fake account deletion, albeit good for longer term, raises uncertainty on near-term user growth expectations." However, the overall performance of Twitter stock this year is impressive. Even with the recent decline it is still up 83 percent on the year. Waray points out that in many cases there is low activity on the accounts deleted and therefore the effect on daily user growth should be weak.
Just last week the stock had risen 6.8 percent after a positive note by Peter Stabler of Wells Fargo that praised the company's recent success with video content and also noted there was improved monetization efficiency. Waral said that Twitter's "high valuation is expecting continued momentum in user growth and engagement that they have seen over the past several quarters."
Published previously in Digital Journal

Friday, August 3, 2018

In just two months Twitter has suspended 70 million accounts

n just the last two months alone Twitter has suspended 70 million accounts. This is part of a crackdown on malicious activity by users on the Twitter platform.

This information is contained in a report in the Washington Post. The suspension rate in May and June is said to be twice the rate of suspensions back in October of 2017.
Twitter under increasing pressure to stop various "bad actors"
Many have complained that Twitter has failed to stop abusive users, trolls, and spam. Particularly since the Russian ad campaign Twitter as well as Facebook have been under pressure to filter out "undesirable" tweets.
Last month, Twitter claimed it was working to improve its safety policies. It said that its “systems identified and challenged more than 9.9 million potentially spammy or automated accounts per week.”
While the change could result in a decline in users for the second quarter, a Twitter executive said that many of the accounts rarely tweeted and thus the company's active user count might not change too much. However, in its first quarter shareholder letter this year the company said that its information quality efforts had a negative impact on the number of monthly active users and that the increased vetting of accounts could very well continues to have an impact on active user numbers.
Del Harvey, Twitter's vice-president for Trust and Safety said in an interview that Twitter was changing the calculus between promoting public discourse and preserving safety. She added that Twitter has only recently been able to dedicate the resources and technical ability to target malicious behavior in the manner it is doing.
Harvey said: “One of the biggest shifts is in how we think about balancing free expression versus the potential for free expression to chill someone else’s speech. Free expression doesn’t really mean much if people don’t feel safe.” The truth is often threatening to people and of course governments as well. Free expression does not mean much if it cannot make people and governments uncomfortable.
Trump's tweet
Trump tweets: “Twitter is getting rid of fake accounts at a record pace. Will that include the Failing New York Times and propaganda machine for Amazon, the Washington Post, who constantly quote anonymous sources that, in my opinion, don’t exist. They will both be out of business in 7 years!”
Any publication that criticizes Trump he calls fake news. He has a particular dislike of Jeff Bezos CEO of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post. There are dangers in quoting anonymous sources but sometimes it cant be avoided. Often Trump has no sources but confidently asserts falsehoods as truths. Where are his sources for the statement that both papers will be out of business in 7 years?

Previously published in Digital Journal

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Seagate expands production into the solid state drive (SSD) area

Seagate the well known manufacturer of hard drives , external hard drives, and other storage devices has expanded into the growing new Solid State Drive SSD business.

The expansion shows an interest into taking advantage of the growing demand for the more modern solid state drives (SSD) over traditional hard disk drives (HDD).
Solid State Drives (SSD)
Wikipedia describes SSD's as follows: "A solid-state drive (SSD) is a solid-state storage device that uses integrated circuit assemblies as memory to store data persistently. It is also sometimes called solid-state disk,.. for historical reasons. SSD technology primarily uses electronic interfaces compatible with traditional block input/output (I/O) hard disk drives (HDDs), which permit simple replacements in common applications. New I/O interfaces like M.2 and U.2 have been designed to address specific requirements of the SSD technology. "
Unlike traditional hard disk drives or floppy disks, the SSD's have no moving mechanical parts such as spinning disks. They are more resistant to physical shock, run silently, and have quicker access time. Although the price of SSD's has come down considerably from when they were first issued, they are still relatively more expensive per storage unit than traditional HDDs. Still many are upgrading computers to SSD because of their advantages over traditional HDDs. However, SSDs are not suitable for keeping archival material.
The BarraCuda SSD
The new SSD is not the newer faster NVMe drive but a relatively basic SATA drive. However, it will still be a viable option for a desktop. The capacities of the BarraCuda begin at 250GB and range all the way up to 2TB. One virtue of the drives is that they are not too expensive. The 250GB is $74, and the 1 TB model is on sale for 229.99.
As of now, the BarraCuda is on a limited release sale at Amazon but in September it will be available elsewhere.
Seagate Technology PLC is a US data storage company. It was incorporated way back in 1978 as Shugar Technology. However, since 2010 the company has been incorporated in Dublin Ireland. However, it operational headquarters are in the United States at Cupertino California.
The current board chair is Stephen Luczo. Luczo was previously president and CEO from 1998 to 2004. On October 2 last year David Mosley was appointed CEO as Luczo relinquished that role.
As of 2017 the company had 41,000 employees.
Last year in August Seagate already unveiled the largest SSD in the world 60 TB.
Previously published in Digital Journal

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Russia accused in 2nd pair of novichok poisonings but with little evidence

Ben Wallace, the U.K. security minister, has claimed that Russia is responsible for the Novichok poisoning of a second couple in Amesbury near Salisbury — where ex-spy Sergei Skripal was poisoned along with his daughter in March of this year.

Russia accused of second poisoning
Wallace has called on Russia to help U.K. authorities keep the people of Britain safe by giving information. The Guardian speaks of the "same military-grade nerve agent" that almost killed Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia.
When asked whether Russia could be responsible Wallace said:“Based on the evidence we had at the time of the Skripal attack, the knowledge they [Russia] had developed Novichok, they had explored assassination programmes in the past, they had motive, form and stated policy, we would still assert to a very high assurance that the Russian state was behind the original attack. The working assumption would be these are victims of the consequences of the previous attack or something else but not that they were directly targeted.
"This [the Skripal incident] was a brazen and reckless attack at the heart of a very peaceful part of the UK. That is part of the anger I feel at the Russian state. They chose to use a very, very toxic, highly dangerous weapon. Novichok in the smallest form can injure thousands of people. The Russian state could put this wrong right. They could tell us what happened, what they did and fill in some of the significant gaps we are trying to pursue. We have said they can come and tell us what happened. I’m waiting for the phone call from the Russian state. The offer is there.”
Russia has denied having anything to do with the Skripal event or the new poisoning; but of course this would be natural and is summarily dismissed. Yet there is no convincing reason given as to why the Russians would have used a poison that would immediately cause them to come under suspicion.
The Alice in Wonderland official narrative about the Skripal event
The official narrative about what happened to the Skripals has all sorts of inconsistencies being as full of holes as Swiss cheese. A recent Digital Journal article list some of the issues as well as having links to numerous critical articles. The issue had gone off the radar of the mainstream media who seem quite uninterested in the fact that neither Yulia or Sergei Skripal who have been out of the hospital for some time have not been available for any real press conference.
George Galloway's op ed in Russia Today is just one of many examples of caustic critiques of the official narrative blaming Russia for the Skripals' poisoning. He starts out with a quote from Alice in Wonderland: "Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast". He then points out that to believe the official narrative you would have to believe more than six impossible things.
Galloway points out how incredible is the view that the two were poisoned by contact with Novichok on the doorknob of their house. The time period that the two were able to function normally before being found unconscious is radically inconsistent with the view they were poisoned by Novichok a military grade nerve agent. Galloway notes: "Neither Skripal showed any signs of having been affected in the pub, or wherever else they visited en route to Zizi's, or in the restaurant, or even in the only short piece of CCTV footage seen in the public domain after they had left the restaurant but before they reached the park bench on which they slumped five hours after leaving their doorknob." Reporters have never been able to ask Yulia or Sergei what their view is of what happened. If their story confirmed the official narrative we would have heard that ages ago.
Populace reassured that sites in Skripal case decontaminated
Spokesperson for PM Theresa May said: “The advice from chief medical officer was clear that the risk to the public is low. Equally the chief medical officer was clear that in terms of the sites involved in the Skripal incident they have now been decontaminated.” if that is so then it would seem that the Novichok that poisoned them was not likely a part of the original batch that poisoned the Skripals.
How can the authorities claim the risk is low? Was it low for Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley who were poisoned?
Porton Down laboratory established that the nerve agent was Novichok
Neil Basu claimed on Wednesday that expert scientists in chemical warfare at the Porton Down laboratory that is between Amesbury and Salisbury where the Skripals were poisoned had established that the nerve agent that poisoned the two was Novichok. The poisoning happened Saturday but there were no news reports until four days later.
Basu said: “From initial assessment it was thought that the two patients had fallen ill after using drugs from a potentially contaminated batch. However ... due to concerns over the symptoms the man and woman were displaying, samples from both patients were sent to Porton Down laboratory for analysis. Following the detailed analysis of these samples, we can confirm that the man and woman have been exposed to the nerve agent Novichok, which has been identified as the same nerve agent that contaminated both Yulia and Sergei Skripal.”
No one has a good explanation of how four people now have been exposed to a military grade nerve agent and none have died. A recent tweet by Ian Wilkie also notes: "This is four (4) victims now that have been exposed to and suffering from a "military grade nerve agent" and not one (1) EMT or medical carer has suffered the slightest ill effect, with ALL treating the four (4) victims (while wearing no protective gear) for opiate intoxication."
There is virtually no evidence of Russia being involved in this second poisoning
In explaining why Russia is to blame for the second incident Wallace refers mostly to the first incident. Of course he gives no real direct evidence even for that event. He says of blaming Russia for the second event: "The working assumption would be these are victims of the consequences of the previous attack or something else but not that they were directly targeted. " The idea seems to be that somehow the Russians left some of the Novichok from the original attack where others could be poisoned I suppose. At most it could be an accident. The authorities know that the Russians have denied having anything to do with the first incident and yet they are asking them to explain a second incident that is supposed to be a consequence of the first. Obviously they are not seriously asking the Russians for information. Note that the UK has steadfastly rejected the Russian offer to be part of the investigation.
Police lied about what had happened
An article by Moon of Alabama notes that people near Rowley's house in Amesbury said that people in protective suits were seen on Saturday evening. A nearby resident Chloe Edwards a 17-year old student said: "We were just eating our dinner and all these emergency vehicles turned up. They were putting on these green suits and we thought it was the gas as our electricity was turned off as well." Another neighbour Lee Ann Brady said: 'I was told on the Saturday around half 6 in the evening that there was a gas leak and to close my windows. Nothing else was ever mentioned to us after that. But I haven't seen any British Gas vans anywhere.' Obviously the authorities knew something serious was up but misinformed the public. Even two days after the incident people were being told that it was a case of contaminated drugs but their actions show that they knew this was incorrect.
There was probably a D-notice issued
Wikipedia describes a D-notice as follows: "A DSMA-Notice (Defence and Security Media Advisory Notice)[1] — formerly a DA-Notice (Defence Advisory Notice), and before that called a Defence Notice (D-Notice) until 1993—is an official request to news editors not to publish or broadcast items on specified subjects for reasons of national security. The system is still in use in the United Kingdom."
The Moon of Alabama article argues that the issuance of a D-notice would explain the four day gap before there was any reporting on what had happened. The D-notice now prohibits any explanation of the censoring. Apparently along with D-notices outright lying is to be condoned but it is all for a good cause ultimately, casting blame on Russia.

Previously published in Digital Journal 

US auto sales rise in June for US big three

(July 3) In June, sales were stronger for top US auto manufacturers. Consumers continued to buy sport utility vehicles and trucks in larger numbers. So far there seems to be no negative reaction to higher fuel prices, interest rates and trade tensions.

Sales rise but investors sell shares in auto firms
Investors were selling off shares in the big three Detroit auto manufacturers, GM, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler during June. This may be caused by rising trade tensions between the US and trading partners and the threat of tit-for-tat tariffs in the auto sector. The tensions have led to a fall in US consumer confidence in June and caused some effect on plans to purchase big ticket items. Some consumers may be buying autos before the price rises due to a trade war.
A poll of economists by Reuters predicted a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 17.0 million vehicles for the U.S. auto industry in June. U.S. vehicle demand in June of 2016 hit a record 17.5 million vehicles .
GM sales are up
The number one US auto manufacturer GM, has stopped reporting its monthly numbers this April but claimed its sales rose 4.6 percent to 758,376 for the quarter that ending in June. The sales increase saw strong truck sales and of new cross-over vehicles.
Kurt McNeil, the vice president of US sales operations said: "Customers are buying with confidence because the economy is strong and they expect it to remain strong.
Ford sales also increased
Ford is the second largest auto manufacturer in the US. The company said it sold 230, 635 vehicles in June compare with 227,979 in 2017. Ford SUV's sold 77,453 vehicles up 8.1 percent and a record for June.
The company said that sales of its popular F-series large pickup trucks were on track to break the previous annual record of 939,511 units set back in 2004. The series is the best-selling model line in the US.
Fiat Chrysler also does well
The company claims that US sales rose 8 percent in June to 202,264 vehicles. The sales spurt was largely driven by Jeep and Ram trucks brands. Jeep sales alone rose a whopping 19 percent while Ram Trucks also posted a 6 percent gain, their best June sales ever. In June of this year the Jeep Cherokee sales rose 89 percent to 22,433 vehicles compared to just 11,895 in June of last year.
Positive signs for auto manufacturers
US jobless rates are at their lowest level since the turn of the century 2000. Average incomes are also beginning to grow more strongly. Nevertheless many analysts are predicting weaker sales for the rest of the year and declining demand next year.
The weaker outlook is caused by rising interest rates on car loans while bankers are tightening terms for car loans according to economist Charlie Chesbrough who argued that autos were becoming less affordable.
GM and other car makers have also warned that if US president Donald Trump imposes steep tariffs on foreign vehicles and imported auto parts this will raise prices to consumers and costs to manufacturers and sales could drop dramatically.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Large majority of Americans see some medical benefits in use of marijuana

A new study by the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that a large percentage of Americans have a favorable attitude to medical marijuana ev...