Monday, April 30, 2018

There may have been no chemical attack in Douma

There is a constant information war going on in the media between those supporting the view that the Assad regime is not guilty of a chemical attack in Douma and those that insist that he is.

Most of the latter group also support the actions of the United States, France, and the United Kingdom in attacking a limited number of targets in Syria allegedly to degrade the regime's use of chemical weapons. This attack was carried out even as the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons(OPCW) had arrived in Syria but had not begun their investigation of the site where the alleged attack took place. It is still to carry out its investigation and started on Saturday.
The Assad is guilty narrative
The view that Assad is guilty is based on evidence that is shown widely on social media which has graphic images of corpses and children being hosed down and treated after suffering from a chemical attack. The evidence is provided by the rebels, the Army of Islam, the White Helmets and the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS). A typical video is below:
SAMS put the toll at 49. The White Helmets claimed 43 were killed with twelve being children. Mohamad Katoub of SAMS said that he doubted any meaningful evidence would remain and local staffers would be too afraid to give testimony. He claimed in the present circumstances that an investigation would be too hard. Notice that he is in fact in advance of the investigation taking place questioning its worth. In other words one should rely on the evidence already produced with the cooperation of the White Helmets, SAMS and the rebels.
There are few explanations as to why Assad would unleash a chemical attack just when he is almost victorious in driving rebels out of the area. It would seem that it is just because he can't help himself, despite how disastrous as the outcome might be.
In the U.S., one of the few people critical of the air strikes is the libertarian Ron Paul who thinks that the answer is that Assad did not carry out a chemical attack.
The mainstream press, particularly in the U.S., is almost unanimous in support of the view that Assad is guilty and few if any dissenting or skeptical voices are to be heard.
There was no chemical attack narrative
There are various narratives supporting the view that Assad is not to blame for a chemical attack. One version is that there was a chemical attack but by the rebels themselves who did it in a desperate attempt bring more foreign intervention into the war to fight against the Assad regime. However, there is another narrative that denies that there was an attack at all and that the videos widely seen on TV and other media are staged but meant to evoke a response from the U.S. and others against the Assad regime.
Assad and his allies were worried that as the rebels lost ground and faced defeat they would carry out a false flag chemical attack to force the U.S. and its allies to intervene militarily against the Assad regime. The appended video from March 17th suggests the attack would come in the south near the Jordan border and was assisted by U.S. training.
As it turns out the alleged chemical attack came in Douma, and according to one narrative, it was not an actual attack but was staged.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Yulia Skripal released from hospital whisked away to "secure location"

(April 10)After more than a month in the hospital after being found unconscious and poisoned with her father Sergei on a park bench in Salisbury U.K. on March 4, Yulia Skripal has been released from the hospital.
Everything is kept under wraps
You would think that reporters and the news media would be crying out for permission to interview Yulia. But no one seems to be complaining. Although Yulia says she has been awake for nearly a week, not a single reporter has interviewed her. Russia has asked for a consular visit but it has not been granted. Her cousin Viktoria in Russia requested a visa to see her but was denied.
The only officially allowed statement from Yulia was via the police. The statement said nothing about her experiences except that she was disoriented. The authorities surely must have interviewed her about what happened. Why is nothing of what she said released to the public? No one even asks such questions. Just read all the mainstream "objective accounts".
Christine Blanshard, the medical director of the Salisbury District Hospital said that Sergei would be discharged in due course. Expect the same sort of event when Sergei is discharged, where there are no reporters asking questions of her and no statement about what he said about events. However, no doubt he too has been interviewed by authorities and provided them with his version of events. Yet somehow no one seems to even ask why nothing has been released of what he has said to them.
The phone call of Yulia to cousin Viktoria
I discussed the phone call in a recent Digital Journal article. The woman alleged as Yulia said nothing about what happened. She did say some things that authorities might not like such as that the conditions at present prevented her from asking that the cousin visit if she did get a visa and she suggested that the cousin would not. She also said that her father was recovering and was asleep. This contradicted the official narrative which still had him in grave but stable condition.
The media such as the BBC were very careful to claim the call was unconfirmed. Viktoria, the cousin, claimed she recognized Yulia's voice. Quite soon after the phone call a new update was released on Sergei's condition noting that it had improved and he was recovering. Victoria did not get a visa. Yulia is supposed to not want a consular visit. Very convenient again to ensure that everything that she knows about what happened is not revealed.
Yulia said to be in a secure location
The BBC claims Yulia was taken to a secure location. We are not told who will be able to see or contact her. We are not even told whether she is going to this location voluntarily. This is another obvious device to ensure that she does not release any information that is unauthorized.
Even Blanshard did not say when Yulia was discharged. The BBC said she had left the hospital on Monday night and went to a safe place. Presumably she was released into the hands of authorities who took her to the place. They are not about to let her simply leave on her own to go wherever she wants or talk to whomever she wishes. She could unwrap things. Of course, the official narrative will be that this is all for her safety if anyone asks.
Russian embassy wants proof that Yulia is acting freely
A statement from the Russian Embassy in London said: "We congratulate Yulia Skripal on her recovery. Yet we need urgent proof that what is being done to her is done on her own free will."
The embassy also responded to the report that both Yulia and Sergei could be resettled with new identities. The Embassy said: "Secret resettlement of Mr and Ms Skripal, barred from any contact with their family will be seen as an abduction or at least as their forced isolation."
The offer of new identities is apparently being arranged by US and UK intelligent agencies: "Intelligence officials at MI6 have had discussions with their counterparts in the CIA about resettling the victims of the Salisbury poisoning. “They will be offered new identities,” a senior Whitehall figure said." This is likely to keep any information as to what happened indefinitely under wraps.
According to the BBC, British officials stated that reports that the Skripals would be relocated to the U.S. are inaccurately premature.
The demand for verification and concerns about resettlement make perfect sense. The U.K. authorities could simply allow Yuiia to make a phone call to the Russian Embassy to say she was acting on her own free will. Of course there might be pressure on her to say that but this would make the U.K. look less as if it were forcibly keeping any testimony by her under wraps. However, perhaps there has already been pressure to do this but Yulia refused to do so.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Friday, April 27, 2018

GM in South Korea cutting 2,600 jobs

- General Motors in South Korea is cutting some 2,600 jobs and threatens to leave the country unless the union at the GM's Bupyeong factory near Seoul grants concessions.

Public attitudes have changed?
According to a recent Reuters article the situation has changed since the previous owners of the plant Daewoo went bankruppt in 2001. Then the public was sympathetic to the workers. An employee, Lee Bum-yeon said that his neighbours at supermarkets and bakeries gave his children free snacks and bread. He said: “People felt sorry. People felt heart-broken. They were worried how we were going to make a living."
Lee claims attitudes have changed and he felt that no one felt any sympathy for the workers any more. Lee was rehired by GM in 2002 a year after they bought Daewoo.
According to the Reuters article South Korea has a reputation for militant unions and rigid labor practices that create high labor costs and South Korean companies are typically undervalued in comparison with their global peers, creating what is known as the Korea discount.
The article appears to have a somewhat anti-union bias. There are no general data about how the union or unions are percieved just one person's feelings. Many in the area must be pro-union or it would have been decertified. South Korean vehicles are able to compete successfully in global markets in spite of the claimed costs created by unions. It seems that the GM plant must be facing specific problems that make it uncompetitive.
The article notes that Korean labor leaders are under pressure to make concessions as car manufacturers look to shift jobs to countries with lower costs. This has always been the case to some extent but labor costs are just one of many factors that need to be considered. Labor costs are no doubt higher in Europe and the United States but there are still many successful car maufacturers there and foreign manufacturers often build plants in the US..
There is always a tension between militancy and reaching a deal
Kim Sung-Soo a fund manager at LS Asset Management, said: “I expect militant unions to become more reasonable, which would lead to enhanced labor flexibility. Unions have learned a lesson from past incidents where they can lose all if they go militant.”
South Korean unions fought against powerful conglomerates in the past
The article does note that the unions fought for democracy in the past but discusses the issue under the heading "Democracy to Militancy" . However, the unions were surely militant during the period when they fought for wages and basic labor rights in a country dominated by powerful family-run conglomerates chaebols.
The chaebols helped create the rapid industrialization of South Korea during the 1980's and 90's. The unions also as the article notes led in the fight for democracy against authoritarian governments, and enjoyed backing from non-union workers in small firms as well as the broader public.
Chaebols are described by Wikipedia as follows: "A chaebol (/ˈtʃeɪbɒl/,[1] /ˈdʒɛbəl/;[2] Korean: [tɕɛ̝.bʌl] (About this sound listen)) is a large industrial conglomerate that is run and controlled by an owner or family in South Korea.[2] A chaebol often consists of a large number of diversified affiliates, controlled by an owner whose power over the group often exceeds legal authority.[3] The term is often used in a context similar to that of the English word "conglomerate".[citation needed] The term was first used in English in 1984.[2] There are several dozen large South Korean family-controlled corporate groups that fall under this definition."
The chaebols still exist but their power and influence in politics have declined. In 2014 however Samsung the largest chaebol comprised approximately 17 of the total South Korean economy and had about $17 billion in cash. However, the income and profits of the chaebols has been declining. Many are losing talent and suffering losses.
Power and influence of unions have been weakening
As in many other countries union influence has been weakening. The article claims that the public now sees them as an "interest group which seeks to maximize their own interest". As their history shows the unions at least in the past have pursued wider interest and included democratic rights. No doubt with increasing globalization and the increase of corporate power over the unions and working people, many unions have retreated in their aims and do mainly try to advance their own interests as they are threatened and see the narrower pursuit as necessary to survive. However, it is in the interest of corporations to portray them as self-interested in order to decrease the breadth of their appeal and power.
Union membership in Korea is in steep decline and has reduced by half in the last 2 decades alone. In 2016 only ten percent of South Korean workers were in unions. Of members in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development only Turkey had a lower union concentration.
GM has already closed one South Korean plant
GM employs about 16,000 South Koreans. It announced in February that it would close a plant in Gunsan. It is weighing options of closing the three other plants it has in the country.
GM's union has already promised that it will not seek a pay raise or bonuses for this year during annual wage talks.
However, GM's South Korean plants are all losing money. GM says it will file for bankruptcy unless the union agrees to even more cost cuts and concessions by April 20th.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. Th

Previously published in Digital Journal

Walmart will add 500 Pickup Towers to its stores in 2018

Over the course of this year, Walmart intends to add a total of 500 Pickup Towers to its stores in the US. The towers are like high-tech vending machines which deliver customer's online purchases to them.
The towers will help Walmart compete with Amazon
The company had already introduced the towers into 200 stores last year. Since then more than half a million orders have gone through the towers. By the time, the 500 new towers are added about 40 percent of the US population will have access to them.
The towers will leverage its numerous brick-and-mortar stores to enhance their online sales. Last April, it announced a "pickup discount" on a million online items if they picked up items at their stores. The store delivery saves the company considerable money. The company has its own fleet of more than 6,700 trucks that deliver to stores from 4,700 fulfillment centers.
Not only are customers saving more on their orders but when they come to pick up their items, they may take the opportunity to do further shopping in the stores. With the Pickup Towers there is no shipping charge.
How the Towers work
Customers shop online in the usual manner. They then wait for an email which tells them that their item or items are available at a local Walmart. The customer receives a barcode which they then have scanned by the Tower which then sends down the items.
The new Towers also will have pickup lockers a new feature that will allow customers to pick up larger items such as TVs and mini-fridges. Some articles such as a 65 inch TV still wont fit. Walmart's rival Amazon has had a local locker program for some time. With its acquisition of Whole Foods it now has many new store locations for its lockers. Still Walmart has the advantage of many stores that it can use to place the towers and this will help them compete and lure possible Amazon customer
Walmart is also adding new means of serving customers. It offers online grocery ordering with curbside pickup and in some stores grocery deliveries. It has partnered with Mobile Express Scan & Go to just shop and skip the checkout line and also with Google for voice ordering and Google Express integration.
One article suggests that Walmart should consider where they place the new Pickup Towers: "The question, though, is if they'll be placed in more convenient locations. Some existing stores have them in the very back, which is good for Walmart -- you're more likely to buy stuff while making a pick up -- but kind of terrible for everyone else."
Published previously in Digital Journal

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Do Not Pay chatbot program helps people to contest parking tickets using new technology

Services powered by new technology such as DoNotPay and others streamline the process of contesting parking tickets. The chatbot program is free and through a series of simple questions evaluates whether an appeal is likely to be successful.

 1 of 2 
An example from Seattle, Washington
As many of us would when he found a parking ticket on his windshield, Dan Lear a resident of Seattle normally would simply pay the ticket even though he felt he had been misled by street signage. However, once before he had successfully used DoNotPay a free chatbot service to win a dismissal of a ticket back in 2016. He decided to try again.
The victorious Lear, who is himself an attorney said: “I guess I’m torn between supporting my local government but also ensuring that people have the right to appeal things that they feel are not fair or not legal.”
The chatbot asks such questions as if the parking sign was difficult to read or if the ticket had incorrect details. If it thinks there is a chance of a successful contesting of the ticket, it will then produce a letter containing a formal legal defense that could be submitted to the proper authorities online or by mail. The creator of DoNotPay is Joshua Browder.
Joshua Browder
Joshua Browder was born in the UK in 1997 and grew up in Hendon London. However, as of last year he was still studying at Stanford University in California the alma mater of his father.
At the age of 18 he began to drive and also accumulate parking tickets. He felt that a disproportionate number of the tickets targeted the elderly and disabled. He also noticed the formulaic format of appeals. This lead him to create the chatbot "DoNotPay".
Browder taught himself to code at the age of 12. According to Forbes he programmed the entire website between the hours of 12 AM and 3 AM.
The success of DoNotPay
The chatbot has helped drivers in the UK and US beat more than 450,000 parking tickets representing $13 million in fines. The chatbot wins dismissals more than half the time according to Browder. This compares with a dismissal rate of around 35 percent in Los Angeles and just 21 percent in New York City.
Browder claimed that parking tickets were a source of revenue and he considers that wrong. He has been called the Robin Hood of the Internet by BBC. Browder said that local governments generally did not like him.
Nevertheless investors like his company and he recently received $1.1 million to expand into helping fight property tax evaluations and file for divorce among other things. There are already other companies to compete in fighting tax evaluations and parking tickets. The service has now expanded into many other areas than parking tickets as shown on the appended video.
Impact of losing fine revenue varies with municipalities
Nationwide less than one percent of revenue for local governments come from parking tickets. But some municipalities are much more dependent on such revenue than others.
In 2013, 21 of 90 municipalities St. Louis County in Missouri collected more than 20 percent of their revenue from court fines and fees of which parking and speeding tickets were a large portion.
State budgets too could suffer. In 2015 a decrease in ticket volume forced the Nevada Supreme Court to seek a bailout for the state. No doubt DoNotPay and competitors such as Winit can expand to contest other traffic fines reducing revenue further.
To try and compensate, municipalities would need to hire more employees to check tickets to ensure that they could not be contested. Mark Granado, manager of parking operations and support for the Los Angeles Dept. of Transportation said: “At this point, we don’t have an automated process, so it may cost our constituents money.” Granado actually said he welcomed the professionalization of appeals.
DoNotPay has its own website here.
Previously published in Digital Journal

Dealing with customer returns an increasingly costly process for companies

Consumers prefer in-store returns no matter where the purchase was made. This creates a heavy burden on stores as many receive back items that were purchased on line in addition to those purchased in the store.
Reverse logistics
Wikipedia describes reverse logistics as follows: "Reverse logistics is for all operations related to the reuse of products and materials. It is "the process of moving goods from their typical final destination for the purpose of capturing value, or proper disposal. Re-manufacturing and refurbishing activities also may be included in the definition of reverse logistics..Any process or management after the delivery of the product involves reverse logistics. If the product is defective, the customer would return the product. The manufacturing firm would then have to organise shipping of the defective product, testing the product, dismantling, repairing, recycling or disposing the product. The product would travel in reverse through the supply chain network in order to retain any use from the defective product. The logistics for such matters is reverse logistics."
A retailer faced with many returned goods is faced with the cost of sending the goods back to the manufacturers or distributors at some cost. It requires quite a bit of store labor to do this. As a result some retailers hire what are called 3Pls who are in turn expensive to hire.
What are 3PLs?
Wikipedia describes third-party-logistics (3PL) as follows: "Third-party logistics (abbreviated 3PL, or sometimes TPL) in logistics and supply chain management is a company's use of third-party businesses to outsource elements of the company's distribution and fulfillment services."
Either reverse logistic method is costly to the retailer and could impact profits.
Experts make suggestions
Carly Llewellyn, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at Optoro warns that retailer should carefully consider their methods in dealing with returns: "The biggest factor is strategic. What’s the role of your store? Is it a showroom, a traditional brick-and-mortar outlet or an omnichannel hub? Retailers that operate their stores as showrooms or more traditional brick-and-mortar outlets need to have DCs play a larger role."
"DC" stands for distribution center described as follows: "A distribution center for a set of products is a warehouse or other specialized building, often with refrigeration or air conditioning, which is stocked with products (goods) to be redistributed to retailers, to wholesalers, or directly to consumers...A typical retail distribution network operates with centers set up throughout a commercial market, with each center serving a number of stores. Large distribution centers for companies such as Wal-Mart serve 50–125 stores. Suppliers ship truckloads of products to the distribution center, which stores the product until needed by the retail location and ships the proper quantity."
Pete Madden, director of Alix Partners said that stores that sell to walk-in customers as well as offering buy-on-line services, pick up in store or ship from store options have more factors to consider when it comes to returns.
Llewllyn notes: "We have seen retailers focus on improving their returns process as part of a broader effort to create better experiences across the entire customer journey, Some retailers report as much as 90% of online returns happening in stores instead of through the mail, so the store obviously plays a critical role in returns management. There is no silver bullet. What we have seen is that retailers are investing in technology solutions that can support both in store and DC returns management. Everyone is looking to improve returns management in all locations. Forward-thinking retailers have identified the stores as a priority for improvement, because there is a huge opportunity to minimize costs across the network and get to the optimal disposition the fastest."
Retailers no doubt could make it more difficult to return purchases but such a tactic might save money on the returns end of the business but lose disgruntled customers. Such a tactic might also help competitors with more liberal returns policies to gain some of their customers.
Shopping on line
About one third of shoppers claimed they shopped less online if returns were likely to be a hassle. A recent survey also showed that shoppers under 30 preferred to return items to a brick-and-mortar store. The study also showed that 56 percent of shoppers were more likely to shop with a retailer on -line if the retailer allowed free returns and didn't require a return label to be printed. The cost to the consumer in time and or money to return items shows that reverse logistics is important for on-line retailers.They will need to weigh the costs of a liberal return policy against the benefits in keeping and attracting customers.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Arizona bill will allow Arizona corporations to have and share data on a blockchain

Arizona governor Doug Ducey signed a new bill on April 3 that will allow Arizona corporations to hold and share data on a blockchain.

The bill was first introduced by representative Jeff Weninger. It amends the Arizona Revised Statutes to legally recognize data written and stored on systems using blockchain technology.
The bill was passed quickly
The Arizona House of Representatives passed the bill in just over a week, eight days after it was introduced. About a month later the Senate also passed the bill unanimously. In the House four Representatives abstained or voted against the bill. The bill was signed within a few days of reaching the governor's desk.
Arizona has passed a previous blockchain law
Arizona had for a year already begun to recognize signatures as recorded on a blockchain and smart contracts as legal documentation. The governor signed a bill to this effect in March of last year: "The measure was first introduced in early February, seeking to enshrine signatures recorded on a blockchain and smart contracts - self-executing pieces of code - under state law. Specifically, the bill aimed to make those types of records "considered to be in an electronic format and to be an electronic record"."
The text of the bill read in part: "A signature that is secured through blockchain technology is considered to be in electronic form and to be an electronic signature ... A record or contract that is secured through blockchain technology is considered to be in an electronic form and to be an electronic record."
In some respects the law mirrors that of a bill passed in Vermont some time ago that would make blockchain data admissible in court. The Vermont bill specifically noted that data tied to a blockchain would be a fact of record.
Other states also have passed blockchain legislation
Many US states are showing interest in blockchain applications even though some are still suspicious of associated cryptocoins.
Delaware back in 2017 passed similar measures to those in Arizona recognizing blockchain signatures and smart contracts as legal. Its legislation also provided a legal basis for trading stocks on a blockchain platform.
In New York state as well, four bills have been introduced with the aim of evaluating blockchain applications to be used for data storage.
In Nebraska a bill was introduced earlier this year that will, if passed, allow the state to recognize smart contracts and documents stored on a blockchain. It would also allow the state to adopt distributed ledger technology and authorize and define smart contracts.
Blockchain technology is explained on the appended video
Previously published in Digital Journal

Monday, April 23, 2018

Statement from Yulia Skripal comes only through police no info on what happened

(April 5) Finally there is a statement from Yulia Skripal but it comes not direct from her but the police on her behalf. Of course no reporters are allowed to speak to her or Russian officials who have asked to speak to her since she is a Russian citizen.
What is most obvious is that nothing at all is said about her recall of what happened. It is surely of the utmost importance to find out what her version of events is. Not a word about that. The statement is carefully orchestrated to make sure that nothing is said about that.
Yulia claims her condition is improving
She does report on her condition saying that her strength is growing daily. The UK Foreign Office said according to the BBC that she has not taken up the offer of Russian consular assistance. This is just added in I expect to excuse the UK officials from not allowing the consular visit during which she could disclose embarrassing information.
Notice that no reporters or any friends or relatives have been allowed so far to visit her. Her cousin Viktoria in Russia wants to come to visit her and has sought a visa to do so but it is unlikely that even if she does get to the UK she will be allowed to visit. The issue is discussed in the purported phone call to her by Yulia of which a video is appended.
The police release quotes Yulia as saying that she was grateful for the many messages of goodwill she had received and said: "I woke up over a week ago now and am glad to say my strength is growing daily. I have many people to thank for my recovery and would especially like to mention the people of Salisbury that came to my aid when my father and I were incapacitated, Further than that, I would like to thank the staff at Salisbury District Hospital for their care and professionalism. I am sure you appreciate that the entire episode is somewhat disorientating, and I hope that you'll respect my privacy and that of my family during the period of my convalescence."
It is almost as if the last sentence were dictated. It is exactly what is needed. No one should come asking pertinent questions about what happened. After all, she is disoriented and her privacy must be honored. It is what the police want. As I said, everything must be kept under wraps.
Yulia's alleged phone call with her cousin in Russia
Another recent event relative to the Skripal affair is a video from Russian TV that purports to be the audio of a telephone call from Yulia to her cousin Viktoria in Russia.
The BBC does its required hatchet job on the report: "Earlier on Thursday, Russian TV aired a recording of an alleged phone conversation between Ms Skripal and her cousin. However, doubts have been cast on how authentic the recording is; the presenters of the programme themselves said they had been unable to verify it. "
The BBC is careful not to say that it was Julia speaking: The woman described as Yulia says: "Everything is ok. He [her father] is resting now, having a sleep. Everyone's health is fine, there's nothing that can't be put right. I will be discharged soon. Everything is ok." This does not fit in with what the official story is of her father's health which is that he is in critical but stable condition.
However, the Russian news agency Fax has said that the cousin had told them that she had spoken to Yulia and she had said that all was well. Interfax also said that Viktoria expressed surprise that the phone call came through as just a day before she had been told that she would not be allowed to speak to Julia. Surely this shows that Viktoria was one party in the two party phone call. How come Viktoria has not been asked to verify the authenticity of the video? Or has she?
As in her statement to the police, Yulia says nothing about what happened. If the phone call did take place then it was probably with the consent of UK authorities. The only part that perhaps reflects negatively on the UK is that part where Yulia says that Victoria will not likely get a visa but she does not really blame the UK directly so much as to just say that the present situation makes it not possible.
We will have to wait and see if Viktoria gets a visa to go to the UK and if the does whether she will be able to visit Yulia. So far no one who might ask embarrassing questions has apparently visited her. It is unlikely that anyone will do so even though it is a whole month now since the attack and apparently Yulia is reasonably well recovered. Release of any information is to be strictly controlled. Up to now, Yulia's talk comes through the police who no doubt ensure that what is said does not reveal anything.
Meanwhile the official narrative about where the poisoning occurred, the newest one of several, is that the chemical agent was on the front door of their house. Somehow the agent which is supposed to act almost immediately didnt take effect until hours later on a park bench. Even then neither were killed. Surely the only plausible explanation is that it was done by incompetent stupid Russians who forgot that only they could be the source of the agent and were incapable of delivering it properly to cause death.

Previously  published in Digital Journal;

OECD report warns that automation revolution could put 66 million jobs at risk

A new report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) warns members that they are not preparing workers for an automation revolution that could see 66 million workers replaced by machines in coming years.

Thirty two countries were studied. The most vulnerable, one in seven workers on average, were less likely to receive any help when being replaced than those whose jobs were more secure. The OECD report said that 14 percent of jobs in developed countries were highly adapted to be automated. A further 32 percent of jobs were likely to be carried out in quite a different way.
Countries differ in the degree they are vulnerable to automation
In Slovakia a third of all jobs are highly automatable but in Norway on the other extreme only 6 percent of jobs are such.
The report says: “More generally, jobs in Anglo-Saxon, Nordic countries and the Netherlands are less automatable than jobs in Eastern European countries, South European countries, Germany, Chile and Japan.”
The UK was identified in the report as being one of the countries least affected by automation. However, the UK still had one in ten jobs that were at high risk and a quarter of all jobs could be significantly changed.
Sectors most affected by automation

Most subject to further automation were jobs in the manufacturing industry and agriculture. However, service sectors such as postal and courier services, land transport, and food services are also highly vulnerable.
Outlook not as bad in US as 2013 study indicated
A 2013 study had predicted that 47 percent of US jobs were at risk. While that is much too high an estimate according to the new report it is still expected that 13 million jobs will be lost in the US. The report suggests that in some local economies the impact will be greater than the effect the decline of the car industry had on Detroit.
Estimates of how many jobs in the US are at risk vary greatly. The enclosed video claims that 80 million jobs are at risk, more than the OECD estimates for 32 countries. Other sources vary greatly as well. What is not in doubt is that a significant number of jobs will be replaced by AI and automation.
Who is most at risk?
Workers with low skills and young workers were most at risk the report claims. Jobs with the highest risk were in low-skill sectors such as food preparation, cleaning, and labouring jobs. Those most at risk also were less likely to participate in formal education or distance learning. The report states: “The risk of automation is not distributed equally among workers [...] Occupations with the highest estimated automatability typically only require basic to low level of education.”
The report emphasizes the need for young workers to gain work experience while they study. It also stressed the need for retraining and social protection for workers for those at high risk of seeing their jobs disappear or significantly reduced.
The report said: “In parallel, the large share of workers whose jobs are likely to change quite significantly as a result of automation calls for countries to strengthen their adult learning policies to prepare their workforce for the changes in job requirements they are likely to face."
A description of the nature of the report's analysis can be found here.
It should be noted that automation also produces many new jobs often well paid in order to produce software, automated devices, and repair them.
Previously published in Digital Journal

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Google's Chrome Web Store refuses to allow extensions that mine crytocoins

On Wednesday April 4, Google's Chrome Web Store will refuse to accept extensions that mine cryptocurrencies. The company complains that over the past few months there has been a rise in "malicious extensions".

Extensions have hidden mining scripts
The extensions of concern appear to be useful but actually have embedded hidden cryptocurrency mining scripts that run in the background without the consent of the user. This consumes computer resources. The company says that existing extensions are to be delisted from the Chrome Web Store late in June. Extensions with blockchain-related purposes other than mining will continue to be allowed.
Google had previously allowed cryptocurrency mining extensions as long as this was the sole purpose of the extensions and users were informed about the process. Google claimed that 90 percent of all the extensions with mining scripts that were submitted failed to comply with Google policies. As a result they have been rejected or removed from the store.
Mining scripts reduce computing power
The mining can negatively effect the performance of a computer in that it uses up power solving the calculations needed to mine the tokens, a process described in the appended video.

Samsung now makes special chips for bitcoin mining. The chips used by miners have caused shortages in areas such as astronomical research.
Mining scripts even planted in public websites
Companies and hackers have planted backdoor coin mining scripts in public websites in effect stealing computational power for their own mining. Showtime websites were for a time involved.
James Wagener, Google's extensions platform product manage wrote in a blog post:“The extensions platform provides powerful capabilities that have enabled our developer community to build a vibrant catalog of extensions that help users get the most out of Chrome. Unfortunately, these same capabilities have attracted malicious software developers who attempt to abuse the platform at the expense of users.”
There have been numerous scams involving cryptocurrencies and this is just one of several. In many countries cryptocurrencies are being regulated. In some such as China fund-raising practices such as Initial Coin Offerings(ICOs) are banned. Cryptocurrency related ads are now banned on Google and Facebook and will be on Twitter as well.
The mining of cryptocurrencies uses tremendous amounts of power and many environmentalists oppose the practice. Mining companies search the world for cheap power sources to set up mining operations. Not all cryptocurrencies use mining to create the currencies.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Porton Down cannot prove where the Novichok agent was manufactured

A key piece of evidence that the Russians carried out the recent poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia was carried out using what is termed a Novichok type nerve agent manufactured in Russia. However the lab claims it cannot prove this.

This article will deal only with several issues raised by the recent statements by Gary Aitkenhead, chief executive of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down. Wikipedia describes Porton Down as follows: "Porton Down is a United Kingdom science park, situated just northeast of the village of Porton near Salisbury, in Wiltshire, England. It is home to two UK Government facilities: a site of the Ministry of Defence's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) – known for over 100 years as one of the UK's most secretive and controversial military research facilities..." The lab did the tests to identify the nerve agent said to be used in the poisoning.
Aitkenhead's statements
Aitkenhead told Sky News: "We were able to identify it as novichok, to identify that it was military-grade nerve agent. We have not identified the precise source, but we have provided the scientific info to Government who have then used a number of other sources to piece together the conclusions you have come to. It is our job to provide the scientific evidence of what this particular nerve agent is, we identified that it is from this particular family and that it is a military grade, but it is not our job to say where it was manufactured."
Aitkenhead also claimed that the nerve agent required "extremely sophisticated methods to create, something only in the capabilities of a state actor".
Craig Murray pointed out in an article some time ago that the lab had never claimed that the nerve agent came from Russia. He claims that there was pressure on the lab to specifically say so which the lab resisted. Murray pointed out the exact phrasing of what the lab said does not claim that the source was Russia: "The government has never said the nerve agent was made in Russia, or that it can only be made in Russia. The exact formulation “of a type developed by Russia” was used by Theresa May in parliament, used by the UK at the UN Security Council, used by Boris Johnson on the BBC yesterday and, most tellingly of all, “of a type developed by Russia” is the precise phrase used in the joint communique issued by the UK, USA, France and Germany yesterday"
Yet the impression is given in many politician's statements that the lab did establish this. In one interview Boris Johnson UK cabinet minister actually claimed that he was informed by a scientist at Porton Down that the agent definitely came from Russia.
No doubt Aitkenhead's statements were meant to set the record straight as politicians deliberately have tried to confuse the issue and had launched vicious attacks on Craig Murray for pointing out the careful wording of the lab's earlier statement.
Porton Down no doubt has samples of Novichok type agents
While Mr. Aitkenhead would not comment on whether Porton Down keeps novichok he dismissed suggestions that the substance used to poison the Skripals had come from Porton Down and said: "There is no way anything like that could have come from us or left the four walls of our facility."
It is hard to see how the lab could identify the substance as a Novichok type unless they had some of the same type of formulas to compare it with. Novichok is a type of nerve gas not a specific formula. The claim that only Russia could make the Novichok is just obviously wrong. Many states could produce it.
Iran has produced a Novichok type nerve agent

Craig Murray reports: "I have now been sent the vital information that in late 2016, Iranian scientists set out to study whether novichoks really could be produced from commercially available ingredients. Iran succeeded in synthesising a number of novichoks. Iran did this in full cooperation with the OPCW and immediately reported the results to the OPCW so they could be added to the chemical weapons database."
Two countries that probably have the capacity to develop Novichok type agents are North Korea and Israel neither of which have ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Official narrative now falls to intelligence evidence
The official narrative now admits what Craig Murray had long held that Porton Down never said that that Porton Down never even claimed to have any proof the agent came from Russia. It now falls back on what the Foreign Office calls the wider "intelligence picture".
The Foreign Office said: "As the Prime Minister has set out in a number of statements to the Commons since 12 March, this includes our knowledge that within the last decade, Russia has investigated ways of delivering nerve agents - probably for assassination - and as part of this programme has produced and stockpiled small quantities of Novichoks. Russia's record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views former intelligence officers as targets. It is our assessment that Russia was responsible for this brazen and reckless act and, as the international community agrees, there is no other plausible explanation."
Note that even if all of this were true it does not give a shred of evidence that this particular instance involved the Russians. It just shows that they could have done it.
There is one obvious questions that you wont find asked in any of the mainstream reports. Why would Russia develop a nerve agent that could be traced back to Russia and so immediately lead to Russia being a likely culprit? Are the Russians so stupid as to use a means of assassination that could immediately provide evidence that it was somehow involved? Although obvious it seems that the mainstream press does not seem to think these questions are relevant or important.
Another reason it is not plausible that the Russians would carry out the assassination is that when spies are swapped it is understood that neither side will further punish those swapped. Who will trust Russia with a swap again if Russia wreaks revenge on those swapped? Again, this question does not come up.
We do not know who did the act, but questions remain regarding the official U.K. narrative, some of which I discussed in a recent Digital Journal article.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Trump pushing hard for NAFTA agreement in principle as soon as possible

(April 3) The Trump administration is pushing hard for a preliminary NAFTA agreement in order to announce it at a summit in Peru next week.
Bypassing regular negotiations
According to three people familiar with the talks the Trump administration will host talks with cabinet ministers in Washington to attempt a breakthrough on the NAFTA renegotiations.
The White House wants leaders from Canada and Mexico to join in revealing the broad outlines of an updated pact at the Summit of the Americas that starts on April 13. Meanwhile technical talks hammer out the finer details and legal text could continue on. The three people who revealed this asked not to be identified as the talks are private.
The negotiations are already quite opaque with little detail of what is happening being revealed. Although what happens at these meetings is quite important to the welfare of the general public the public has little say in what goes on. It seems that the negotiating groups are not moving fast enough, so the US is having just high level political representatives from the three countries negotiate a deal in principle and will leave the details to the staff of the negotiators.
Major divisions remain among the 3 countries
Divisions remain even on the US proposal for more North American content in automobiles. There was supposed to be a breakthrough on the issue but apparently it is still not settled. There are wide divergences between the US chief negotiator, Robert Lighthizer and that of the chief Canadian negotiator on the progress of the talks with the latter claiming little of importance has been settled and there are wide differences. The US negotiator claims they are near an agreement in principle. Perhaps this is wishful thinking.
The White House has not commented on these rumored plans to announce a NAFTA deal.
Mexican official to meet Lighthizer in Washington
Two of the informants claim that Ildefenso Guajardo, the Mexican Economy Minister will meet with the US Trade Representative Lighthizer this Wednesday. Some meetings could include Jared Kushner and the Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgray. Apparently Kushner and Videgray have been handling relationships between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Nieto.
In the upcoming Mexican presidential elections the clear leader is a leftist NAFTA sceptic. No doubt the US would like to see the deal finished before the election.
Further Washington meetings
On Thursday Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland will fly to Washington to meet with Lighthizer. Meetings on Friday would include all three countries' representatives.
Originally there were to be an eighth round of NAFTA talks that were to start in Washington next week. Lighthizer is alleged to have fought against this idea and there has as yet been no invitation for people to resume talks. He claims more progress can be made by holding meetings between smaller groups of negotiators. Perhaps the US hopes to better control events in this environment. The new scheme seems to have come from Lighthizer and the US.
In spite of Trump from time to time threatening to abandon NAFTA, the US actually seems anxious to obtain an agreement. It has gone so far as using various bullying tactics to do so.
Adam Austen, a spokesperson for Canadian minister Freeland's office said: “Canada is committed to concluding a modern, mutually beneficial NAFTA as soon as possible." He declined to comment on what her travel plans were.while declining to comment on her schedule. Mexican officials had no comment.
Trump's bullying tactics
Trump has made Canada and Mexico being excluded from steel and aluminum tariffs contingent upon a NAFTA agreement creating leverage to gain concessions favorable to the US.
Lighthizer told reporters: “The president’s view was that it makes sense that if we get a successful agreement, to have them be excluded. It’s an incentive to get a deal." One could consider this a threat as well.
Trump also claimed that Mexico's failure to stop the migrant flow into the US threatened the NAFTA deal.
Important issues for Canada such as the proportionality clause are not even being considered. NAFTA is less a free trade deal than a pact to create international structures that will further the interest of global corporations. Trump wants to make those structures more favorable to the national interests of the US. Global corporations are probably willing to concede a few crumbs to Trump's America First policy as long as their global interests are not much impacted by the concessions.

Published previously in Digital Journal

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

US stock markets had worst 2nd quarter beginning since the Great Depression

(April 2) United States stock markets had the worst 2nd quarter start since the Great Depression. The S&P 500 closed down more that 2.2 percent on Monday its worst start in April since 1932 according to the Bespoke Investment Group.

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Even worse, the S&P closed down below its 200-day moving average for the first time since June 2016. Breaking through the level is often a sign of a further decline. Volatility went higher.
Justin Walters, co-founder of Bespoke claimed in an email: "Based on recent market action, the bears clearly have control right now. The path of least resistance is lower until something comes along to reverse that trend."
The S & P fell back as technology led the fall. Amazon and Netflix both dropped more than five percent. Intel fared even worse as Apple announced it would make its own chips replacing those of Microsoft. It fell about 8.5 percent. Apple will replace the chips as early as 2020. Amazon is being hammered partly because of Trump's constant criticism of the firm.
Other stocks in the deep red include Nvidia — that Wells Fargo claims has risks that are rising significantly. For some reason Tesla CEO Elon Musk in an April Fool joke reported that his company was bankrupt. It isn't yet, but the stock has declined considerably.
A few stocks were able to buck the down trend including Barrick Gold as the mining company benefited from the rising price of gold as investors seek a safe haven in this troubled market. Humana the health insurer's shares also rose after reports that Walmart is considering a takeover of the company in a deal that would be close to $40 billion.
At the close
The Dow Jones Industrial average fell almost two percent, 1.9, or 458 points. As China slapped retaliatory tariffs on numerous US agricultural goods, investors may fear a global trade war. As mentioned, the S & P closed down more than 2.2 percent. This is the worst showing since 89 years ago when it declined 2.5 percent, a prelude to the big crash later in the year heralding the Great Depression.
Tomorrow should be an interesting day and may show whether the trend is continuing down or whether today was just a correction in a continuing bull market.
Previously published in Digital Journal

Telegram messenger reaps $1.7 billion in presale of its own cryptocoin

Telegram is a cloud-based secure messaging service. In February it launched a presale of its cryptocurrency that raised a total of $850 million from 81 different investors.

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Later, in a second sale Telegram raised another $850 million bringing the total amount raised to $1.7 billion,. These sales are prior to an initial coin offering (ICO). The Telegram said that it might pursue more subsequent offerings yet.
Telegram is planning to launch the Telegram Open Network(TON) an ecosystem including apps, services, and a store for digital and physical goods. It plans to use the money raised by the ICO to fund this development.
The Telegram messenger service

Telegram is a cloud-based secure instant messaging service. The Telegram apps are available for Windows Phone, Android, iOS, Windows NT, macOS, and Linux as well. Users are able to send messages and exchange photos, videos, stickers, audio, and files of any type.
The firm claims it does not seek a profit but it has already raised the $1.7 billion before the planned initial coin offering.
The firm was founded by Russian Pavel Durov . Although its client-side code is open-source software, the server-side code is closed-source and proprietary. Telegram also provides Application Program Interfaces (APIs) to independent developers.
In March of this year, Telegram stated that it had 200 million monthly active users. The CEO said in April 2017 that the service had seen a more than 50 percent growth rate.
Gram is the name of the currency that will help build the TON net work. The Gram website describes the coin in glowing terms:
"We present GRAM, the representative cryptocurrency of the TON Blockchain. 200 millions of Telegram users will get a TON wallet making it the world’s most adopted cryptocurrency, it will easily accommodate millions of users and thousands of decentralized applications, to provide direct payment channels to transfer value in milliseconds. "
The Telegram messenger service can be downloaded here for desktops. The site also has links to download for other devices.
The Telegram service website is here. It is free.
Chats are not encrypted by default so you have to turn on the encryption for more security. There are critics of the encryption as exhibited in this article.
Previously published in Digital Journal

Monday, April 16, 2018

Tesla recalls 123,000 Model S vehicles

Tesla, the electric car maker. announced in an email to customers on Thursday that it was recalling 123,000 of its Model S vehicles built before April 2016 but that it was a proactive move and no other Tesla vehicles were affected.

Past recalls
This was the largest recall of the Model S since 90,000 of the vehicles were recalled in 2015 for faulty seat belts.
In 2017, 53,000 Model S and Model X were recalled over a parking break fault.
The problem
The Tesla email said that the company had "observed excessive corrosion in the power steering bolts" but that the problem was more prevalent in colder climates and where road salt was used. There have been no accidents or injury caused by the problem so far.
Tesla said in the email: “If the bolts fail, the driver is still able to steer the car, but increased force is required due to loss or reduction of power assist. This primarily makes the car harder to drive at low speeds and for parallel parking, but does not materially affect control at high speed, where only small steering wheel force is needed.”
Tesla said that if owners can still drive the cars if they haven't experienced problems. The company said it would inform owners when a retrofit would be ready in their area. It is estimated to take about an hour to install the retrofit.
Tesla has another fatality while autopilot was engaged
The recall occurs shortly after a fatal crash of a Model X SUV that slammed into a concrete highway divider and burst into flames in California on Friday March 23rd. The company said that the autopilot was on. The driver died shortly after the accident in the hospital. This is the second fatal crash in the US in which the autopilot was controlling the EV.
The car was on adaptive cruise control in which the vehicle is to stay in its lane and at a fixed distance from the vehicle ahead. However, the driver is supposed to keep hands on the wheel and monitor the road as well. If you take your hands off for long, a warning signal comes on the dash and if that is ignored a beep. If you continue to ignore the warnings the car will turn on the flashers and slow to a stop.
The company says that the driver had about five seconds to correct the situation and he had about 150 meters of unobstructed view of the concrete barrier. The driver had ignored both multiple visual warning and an audible beep as well to put his hands back on the wheel.
The Tesla manual warns drivers that the Autopilot is an assist not a driver replacement. It is not meant to be a fully autonomous vehicle. Critics warn that the ease with which the system works on regular freeway driving can give drivers a sense the system is safer than it is allowing them to become distracted and take their eyes off the road.
Tesla is facing many difficulties. It has problems producing enough Model 3s for the many customers waiting for delivery. It is also burning through cash. Its shares have recently suffered significant price declines.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Facebook loses more users in Europe last quarter but is growing elsewhere

Facebook finds its user base had gone down in Europe the company reported as it announced its third-quarter earnings. This is the second qu...