Trump Trade Sanctions Aimed at China Could Ensnare Canada

anastasios pallis
anastasios pallis

Last Thursday, James Mattis, the Defense Secretary, published a public letter concluding that the decline of the American industry as a result of unfair trade posed a threat to national security, a position aligned with the Commerce Department’s. But he urged the administration to proceed cautiously, particularly with regard to allies.

The Defense Department “continues to be concerned about the negative impact on our key allies regarding the recommended options within the reports,” Mr. Mattis wrote. He urged the administration to consider tariffs targeted at specific countries and to focus on what he described as the underlying problem — Chinese overproduction.

Yet the United States could face a challenge in crafting trade sanctions that circumvent allies and target China. It has already imposed a variety of restrictions on Chinese aluminum and steel. But American steel and aluminum producers argue that China still harms them indirectly by routing goods through third countries, as well as depressing global prices to a level where American manufacturers cannot compete.

Although China has promised to cut its steel and aluminum capacity, it has made only slow, modest progress. That is why some American metal makers have argued for broader protections.

Canada accounted for more than half of American imports of aluminum in 2016, followed distantly by Russia and the United Arab Emirates. Canada also made up the largest share of American steel imports in 2016 — 17 percent — followed by Brazil, South Korea, Mexico and Turkey. China did not rank among the top 10 suppliers of either metal.

“From a defense perspective, it makes no sense to limit imports from Canada in the future,” said Alf Barrios, the chief executive of Rio Tinto Aluminum, which exports aluminum from Canada to the United States. “Canada is a longstanding, reliable supply for any needs the United States might have.”

Canada’s inclusion in the Commerce Department recommendations was unexpected, in part because companies and workers have been relatively united in calling for the country to be exempted. The operations of many metal makers — as well as the United Steelworkers, their largest union — stretch across the border. Under law, Canada is included as part of the United States defense industrial base, and the growth of its aluminum industry dates back to supporting the United States during World War II.

Kathleen Wynne, the premier of Ontario, said the recent level of animosity and trade tensions with the United States had surprised Canadians. “We see ourselves as close friends,” she said. “It’s unexpected that we would stand to be damaged by the United States, and vice versa.”

Ken Neumann, the national director of United Steelworkers, struck a similar note. “There is no justification to include Canada with countries that systematically violate trade laws and engage in the dumping of illegally subsidized aluminum and steel,” he said after the release of the Commerce Department report.

Canada is one of several allies that could be affected. Britain, Australia, Europe and Japan would also be included under the kind of blanket tariff or quota recently floated by the Commerce Department.

The measures could fall particularly hard on South Korea, which was named as one of the countries that would face a 53 percent tariff on its steel exports, along with China, Brazil, India, Russia, Turkey and six others, under one potential scenario in the report.

The United States has been seeking South Korea’s cooperation to combat a nuclear threat from North Korea. But the Trump administration has simultaneously pursued the country on trade, largely because South Korea maintains a large trade surplus with the United States. The administration is renegotiating its free trade deal with South Korea, and the country was a target of an earlier tariff on washing machines.

Including countries like Canada could lead to unintended ramifications for the United States military and economy.

Many products made in America use foreign metals, including the Ford F-150, a classic American truck that is consistently ranked as one of the most “made-in-America” vehicles in an industry known for sourcing parts from around the world.

The truck’s engine and transmission are American-made, and the truck is assembled in plants in Dearborn, Mich., and Claycomo, Mo. Even so, the truck is made of Canadian aluminum, some of which comes from Rio Tinto’s aluminum works in Quebec — an area with plentiful hydropower, which is needed for the energy-intensive process of producing aluminum.

From Quebec, some aluminum travels to a plant in upstate New York owned by Novelis, which combines it with recycled aluminum and rolls it out into wide sheets for Ford.

Another 15 percent of the value of the truck’s components come from Mexico. Its window wipers come from a factory in Matamoros, some of its wheels from Chihuahua, and some of the pistons in its engine from Ramos Arizpe.

The auto industry says this web of North American suppliers allows it to produce cars and trucks at a quality and a price to compete with products made around the world. Ford exports the truck back to Canada, and last year it announced that it would begin exporting vehicles to China as well.

Economists say the companies that make aluminum into car bodies and soda cans employ far more people than the smelters that make raw aluminum itself. Novelis, which specializes in recycling and rolling aluminum out into sheets, announced in January that it would invest $300 million to open a new factory in Guthrie, Ky., to make the aluminum sheeting used in cars.

The same trends are true in the steel industry. In mid-February, 15 American industry associations that buy steel to make their products wrote a letter to Mr. Trump arguing that, by raising the price of steel, restrictions on imports could do more harm than good. They said they represented more than one million jobs in the United States, compared with about 80,000 jobs in primary steel production.

Other economic forces are driving aluminum smelting from the United States. Aluminum manufacturing is extremely energy intensive, so it has tended to go to parts of the world with cheap excess energy, like the Middle East, Iceland and Canada. Smelters in the United States must compete with other, more profitable businesses for electricity, like computer server farms.

Continue reading the main story

This article is from NYT – go to source

Lines Out the Door and Strong Sales at Tampa Gun Show

anastasios pallis

Last week, President Trump, an avowed “champion” of gun owners, ordered the Justice Department to issue regulations on bump stocks, which were used in the massacre of concertgoers in Las Vegas last October.

Calls for gun control have intensified since the Parkland shooting, propelled by the students who survived the Feb. 14 attack and by a fast-moving boycott effort that led major companies like United Airlines and the Enterprise car rental business to cut ties with the N.R.A.

Florida Gun Shows, which organized the Tampa event, canceled its Fort Lauderdale gathering next month at the request of Mayor Jack Seiler.

Photo
Norman Carolino, who was selling body armor at the Tampa show, said most of his sales on Saturday were to teachers, school administrators and “parents who are scared to death.” Credit Zack Wittman for The New York Times

Norman Carolino, who was selling body armor at the Tampa show, called the scrapped plans a disservice to people looking for protection. He said most of his sales on Saturday were to teachers, school administrators and “parents who are scared to death.”

“I’m wiped out of everything,” he said. “There are parents in here who’ve never seen the inside of a gun show.”

Juanita Stafford and her husband, Tommy, bought bullet-resistant backpack plates for their eight school-age grandchildren in Florida and Alabama. They received a bulk discount off the $199 price a pad.

Photo
Garrett Potter, of Special Ops Tactical, sells rifles from his booth. His wife, Lindsay, said she welcomed strict background checks for gun buyers. Credit Zack Wittman for The New York Times

“We don’t want to be the people going to funerals and saying coulda, woulda, shoulda,” she said. “We’re putting our money where our mouth is.”

Nearby, rows of handguns sat on cardboard boxes, in glass cases and nestled in velvet-lined cradles. Some sellers wandered the floor carrying signs advertising personal firearms, like a Colt AR-15 SP-1 rifle, for sale in private transactions, which do not require background checks.

Mr. Woody estimated that only 10 percent of gun show shoppers were firearms aficionados. The rest, he said, are either newcomers or dabblers. Many buyers have never purchased an AR-15 before, he said.

Photo
AR-15 parts and accessories on display. The semiautomatic rifle was used by the 19-year-old Florida gunman. Credit Zack Wittman for The New York Times

Mr. Woody, an 18-year-old college freshman in a Christ the Redeemer shirt and cargo shorts, said he supported spending to improve campus safety and incentives for teachers to keep firearms within reach but secured.

But he decried efforts to raise the minimum age to buy semiautomatic firearms.

“There’s a big stigma around the AR-15,” Mr. Woody said. “But say they ban it — if the person knows what they’re doing, they’re just going to buy a different gun that shoots the same caliber and does the same thing but doesn’t get included in the ban because it doesn’t look tactical.”

Even before the Parkland shooting, the gun industry was distressed.

Thriving demand for firearms after the Sandy Hook attack in 2012 and during President Barack Obama’s administration caused new gun companies to swarm the market. But many of those businesses have since scaled back or folded as enthusiasts became less nervous about potential gun legislation and less anxious to stock up.

Remington, one of the oldest gun makers in the country, said it was preparing to declare bankruptcy. American Outdoor Brands, whose Smith & Wesson brand was well represented at the show, has complained about “challenging market conditions.”

Show participants said the financial pressure on the industry and the renewed public attention on guns would make companies especially eager to bolster quality and safety — especially in military towns like Tampa and other markets with avid, discerning firearms customers.

Lindsay Potter, who, with her husband, Garrett, was operating a booth for their company, Special Ops Tactical, described herself as a “big supporter” of the N.R.A. She also said she welcomed strict background checks, believed that sellers should use their discretion to refuse sales and appreciated audits by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“We are under a lot of scrutiny,” she said. “And we should be.”

Continue reading the main story

This article is from NYT – go to source

Women in Cryptocurrencies Push Back Against ‘Blockchain Bros’

anastasios pallis

That means the budding world is already in danger of looking like the rest of the technology industry, where women are decidedly a minority. Some studies estimate that women account for only 4 percent to 6 percent of blockchain investors. That imbalance matters because the early days of an industry are often when the fortunes are made — and those big winners then choose whom to invest in and what to build next, launching a cascade of consequences.

Photo
Some crypto leaders are now organizing events, clubs and conferences to attract women to the industry. Women lined up for one event in San Francisco this month. Credit Laura Morton for The New York Times

Now, some early female investors and entrepreneurs are beginning to sound the alarm and push back.

“Women, consider crypto,” Alexia Bonatsos, a venture capitalist, wrote on Twitter. “Otherwise the men are going to get all the wealth, again.”

The New York Times Explains…

Some crypto leaders are now organizing events, clubs and conferences to attract women to the industry. Ms. Bonatsos spoke at one such event this month in San Francisco. And Jalak Jobanputra, founder of the start-up investment firm Future Perfect Ventures, and other blockchain developers gathered in New York this month to discuss the issue. They later announced that they would form a blockchain diversity advocacy group called the Collective Future and create a diversity pledge for crypto companies to sign as a show of commitment.

“The early days are what decide the culture of an industry and who gets involved in making the decisions,” Ms. Jobanputra said. She cited the venture capitalists who funded eBay and Amazon and whom they funded next.

Arianna Simpson, an early cryptocurrency investor, said the surge of interest in virtual currencies from male novices should remind women that it did not take expertise or a Ph.D. to thrive in the ecosystem.

“Women always question if they’re qualified,” she said. “But look at these clowns around us.”

The response to some of the events has been encouraging, some of the women said. Brit Morin, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, recently held a blockchain gathering for women that sold out in an hour. She moved the meeting to a bigger venue, where all 500 seats sold out again. So she set up a livestream for the event; that evening, 16,000 viewers joined to watch.

“We have an opportunity to rebuild the financial systems,” Ms. Morin said. “Women want to be part of that.”

The resistance follows increasing outrage at the lack of diversity in virtual currencies, punctuated by the sexist incidents involving DateCoin’s Facebook ad and Prodeum, the blockchain-for-fruit start-up. Neither company returned requests for comment.

The gender imbalance was also on display at last month’s North American Bitcoin Conference in Miami, which was organized by a prominent investor, Moe Levin. Mr. Levin originally slated 86 men and one woman as speakers. After complaints, he replaced two of the men with women to achieve what he thought should be enough: 84 men onstage and three women.

“It just coincidentally happened that there were more men than women speakers,” Mr. Levin said. “It’s not intentional not to include them. It’s just we don’t have time to include them.”

When others in the cryptocurrency industry realized the conference’s after-party would be held at a strip club, they encouraged Mr. Levin to change locations. He said the strip club was the most convenient and safest venue he could find.

“Downtown Miami doesn’t have a whole lot of event spaces,” Mr. Levin said. “And we needed a lot of security.”

The year before, the conference’s kickoff party featured underwear-clad models — painted gold and covered in Bitcoin logos.

“Moe does something just as sexist every year,” said Rose Chan, who founded the World Bank’s blockchain working group and now runs her own cryptocurrency project. “He switches it up, which actually means that he thinks about it.”

One group of female investors said they had decided to boycott the conference in the future.

Mr. Levin said this reaction surprised him. “There’s so many people who had a great time,” he said.

At some women-in-crypto events, frustration is giving way to anger and sadness. On a recent night, about 50 young women interested in cryptocurrencies gathered at the Woman’s Club of Palo Alto. Some were engineering students at nearby Stanford University.

Over wine, they shared their stories — some had been mistaken for hired models, others propositioned during job interviews, and many men had not believed they were engineers at all.

Catheryne Nicholson, the chief executive of BlockCypher, which provides infrastructure for blockchain applications, explained to some of the younger women why the gender situation had deteriorated.

“Now there’s a lot of money, and the men think, ‘Oh, I’m a whale now,’” she said. “They’re a little more full of themselves.”

Karen Hsu, BlockCypher’s head of growth, said she thought some of the gender concerns had been overstated. She said that at a recent conference, she had been asked if she was a speaker, which was validating.

“It was nice because he didn’t think I was a booth babe,” Ms. Hsu said, referring to hired models who stand near the booths of start-ups to draw the attention of conference attendees.

Other women spoke about how the culture of blockchain was slowly wearing them down. Jay Graber, a developer at Zcash, a new cryptocurrency aimed at enhanced privacy, was wearing small green earrings she had made out of RAM sticks used in cryptocurrency gear. She said she had become interested in blockchain after joining the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, and she viewed the technology as a tool that could take power away from big central banks. Now she’s not so sure.

“I never felt insecure before I got into this space,” Ms. Graber said. “But I just realized there is no one else like me. It is a very hard feeling when you don’t see anyone who is like you.”

Ms. Graber said she had considered leaving the industry.

“I have this perpetual sense of being on the outside of that conversation,” she said. “It’s just a general state of alienation.”

Continue reading the main story

This article is from NYT – go to source

Hulu Puts Up a Fight Against Netflix, Amazon and Apple

anastasios pallis

Craig Erwich, the head of content at Hulu, read “The Looming Tower” soon after it was published in 2006. He even asked for a meeting with Mr. Wright in 2007, when he was an executive at Fox. Eight years later, he was a contender.

“I got a phone call from the reps,” Mr. Erwich said, “and they were like, ‘Are you aware of this book “The Looming Tower”? And I was like, ‘Am I!’”

When Mr. Wright, Mr. Futterman and Mr. Gibney entered Hulu’s headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif., their expectations were not high. “It was a meeting we considered discretionary,“ said Mr. Wright, 70, who goes by Larry.

The author and his two collaborators sat in a tiny conference room with Mr. Erwich and Beatrice Springborn, Hulu’s head of original programming. During the meeting Mr. Erwich did not hold back his enthusiasm. “He was like a fanboy of Larry’s,” Mr. Futterman recalled.

The Hulu executives surprised the “Looming Tower” team by offering them the works. A straight-to-series order, with no lengthy development process? Done. A promise not to buckle under pressure from the federal agencies who may not like how the series would portray them? Done. The biggest dollar commitment? Done.

The conversation left Mr. Wright and his collaborators slightly dazed. “We walked out of that meeting and said, ‘Are we really doing this? Are we really going to do Hulu?’” Mr. Wright said.

They ended up at a nearby Italian restaurant. Seated at a sidewalk table in the evening light, Mr. Wright and Mr. Gibney ordered martinis, Mr. Futterman had a Peroni, and they talked it over. “We were like, ‘Hulu? Is it growing? Is it not growing?’” Mr. Futterman recalled. “We talked about whether this was a mistake or not.”

They eventually decided that — although Hulu did not have the prestige of HBO, the subscriber base of Netflix or the global might of Amazon — it was the right place for their project. Any remaining doubts held by Mr. Wright and his collaborators were dispelled after Hulu rolled out “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which had its premiere last April to critical acclaim on its way to taking the awards for best drama series at the Emmys and the Golden Globes. Ten years after it began, Hulu was a player at last.

“The Looming Tower,” a 10-episode limited series that stars Jeff Daniels and Peter Sarsgaard, makes its debut on Wednesday. Hulu will follow it up by releasing the second season of “The Handmaid’s Tale” in April and unveiling another big production, “Castle Rock, a horror anthology series from J. J. Abrams and Stephen King, in the summer.

Photo
The author Lawrence Wright was surprised by Hulu’s aggressive offer for “The Looming Tower.” “Are we really going to do Hulu?” he said to his collaborators after meeting with the company. Credit Ben Sklar for The New York Times

Unlike Netflix, Hulu is available only in the United States. It has 17 million subscribers, a figure dwarfed by Netflix’s 52.8 million United States subscribers out of more than 100 million worldwide.

Even with the awards and media attention it has received lately, Hulu is heading toward a future clouded with uncertainty, thanks to a tricky corporate structure and the merger mania that has taken hold of the media and entertainment industries. The company has four owners: The Walt Disney Company (30 percent), 21st Century Fox (30 percent), Comcast (30 percent) and Time Warner (10 percent). If Disney’s pending $52.4 billion acquisition of most of 21st Century Fox wins governmental approval, as is expected, Disney will own 60 percent of Hulu.

The Disney-Fox deal raises the question of what will happen to Hulu, given that Disney is already developing two streaming services. Another potential issue is whether or not two of Hulu’s owners — Disney, which owns ABC, and Comcast, which owns NBC Universal — will be able to play nicely with each other after they become owners with uneven stakes in the platform.

“It’s incredibly awkward,” said Rich Greenfield, a media analyst at BTIG, a global financial services firm. “The question is which way it goes: Does Comcast buy out Disney? Or does Disney buy out Comcast?”

The corporate uncertainties have come to Hulu at a time of mounting losses: It lost $920 million in 2017, according to BTIG, which projects that the business will lose $1.67 billion this year. Hulu is also facing more intense competition than ever as its rivals disrupt the entertainment industry by handing out big checks. In recent months, Netflix has signed the producers Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy to nine-figure deals; Amazon has pledged more than $200 million toward a “Lord of the Rings” series; and Apple, a newcomer in the field, is shelling out hundreds of millions to create original programming of its own.

The outlook is not all bleak. According to Peter Rice, the president of 21st Century Fox, Hulu had more subscriber growth domestically than Netflix in the last two quarters of 2017. And this month, Disney signaled its commitment when its chief strategy officer, Kevin Mayer, suggested that the other streaming services now in the works at Disney would not get in Hulu’s way.

“We’re very much in support of growing Hulu,” Mr. Mayer said at Recode’s Code Media conference. “It takes an investment, for sure. We’re happy to undertake that investment for the outcome, which we know is going to happen. It’s going to be a big, profitable service.”

Hulu has tried to match its rivals in courting talent aggressively. In addition to greenlighting “The Looming Tower” and “Castle Rock,” the company made a deal with George Clooney for a six-episode adaptation of “Catch-22”; signed Jason Blum, a producer of “Get Out,” for a monthly horror anthology series; brought aboard Beau Willimon, the creator of “House of Cards,” for a series starring Sean Penn about human colonization of Mars; and arranged for a reboot of the popular 1990s cartoon “Animaniacs” with Steven Spielberg and his Amblin Entertainment production company.

Hulu has also built up its catalog by gaining the rights to shows like “30 Rock,” “The Golden Girls” and “This Is Us.” Its recent purchase of the 15-season library of the NBC medical drama “ER” — which had not appeared on any streaming platform since it went off the air in 2009 — prompted think pieces about the show’s surprising popularity in 2018. Hulu’s moves extended to the executive realm last May, when it hired Joel Stillerman away from AMC, where he was head of programming, and made him its chief of content.

“Beginning last year, we said this was a time for Hulu to really grow up and be aggressive and be much more offensive in its approach, rather than being defensive,” Randy Freer, the chief executive of Hulu, said.

The company has been fighting its way to prominence ever since it began as an answer to YouTube in 2007.

“Hulu really started as, and has been for the better part of a decade, a hedge,” Mr. Freer said. “It started as a hedge against YouTube — they were going to dominate digital video. Then it was a hedge against Netflix — you didn’t want one buyer of content.”

Mr. Futterman, the screenwriter, said Hulu had won “The Looming Tower” partly because of its guarantee of a speedy development, which appealed to him after his recent dealings with HBO.

Mr. Futterman — who was an executive producer, along with his wife, Anya Epstein, of HBO’s “In Treatment” — said he had grown frustrated by the cable network after it tied up projects he had put together with Ms. Epstein, including a stalled adaptation of the Jennifer Egan novel “A Visit from the Goon Squad.”

“I developed two projects with HBO with Anya after ‘In Treatment,’” Mr. Futterman said. “That was one of among about 200 they were developing.” After noting the promises made by Hulu, he added, “What situation would you rather be in?”

To Mr. Daniels, the Emmy-winning actor who plays the F.B.I. agent John O’Neill in “The Looming Tower,” Hulu is playing in the same league as its chief rivals. “The money feels the same. The production value feels the same,” Mr. Daniels said. “You got all the trucks that a big movie does. Somebody’s spending money on this. We’re filming in, what, four or five countries? That’s not cheap.”

Continue reading the main story

This article is from NYT – go to source

F.D.A. to Expand Medication-Assisted Therapy for Opioid Addicts

anastasios pallis
anastasios pallis

The opioid epidemic is considered the most unrelenting drug crisis in United States history. In 2016, roughly 64,000 people were killed by opioid-related overdoses, including from prescription painkillers and heroin.

Noting federal data showing that only one-third of specialty substance abuse treatment programs offer medication-assisted treatment, Mr. Azar said, “We want to raise that number — in fact, it will be nigh impossible to turn the tide on this epidemic without doing so.”

Mr. Azar’s comments echo those of the F.D.A. chief, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who has made battling opioid abuse a priority for his agency. Dr. Gottlieb has moved to reduce opioid prescriptions by doctors and dentists and to promote more medication-assisted treatment, defined as drugs used to stabilize brain chemistry, reduce or block the euphoric effects of opioids, relieve physiological cravings, and normalize body functions.

The F.D.A. has approved three drugs for opioid treatment — buprenorphine (often known by the brand name Suboxone), methadone and naltrexone (known by the brand name Vivitrol) — and says they are safe and effective combined with counseling and other support. But the agency said it would soon publish two guidances, recommendations for drugmakers, on the issue.

One encourages the development of new, longer-acting formulations of existing drugs for opioid treatment. The other, which was described in detail to The Times, said new drugs would be eligible for approval that don’t end addiction but help with aspects of it, such as cravings, or overdoses, with the goal remaining complete abstinence.

“We will permit an endpoint that shows substantial reductions but does not require the patient to be totally clean at every visit if the measurements are fairly frequent,” a senior F.D.A. official said.

The official also said the F.D.A. was seeking medications that can help patients function better and can be helpful when used in combination with therapy and other social support, even if on their own the medications don’t completely end addiction. Under the new guidelines, patients and their families will have input in assessing how useful a drug is.

“You could envision different MATs where the different treatments are addressing different aspects of what underlies the addiction, and helping people lead productive lives free from addiction to opioids, even in situations where they still might require replacement therapy,” the official said.

Addiction experts were cautious in their praise of the plan, which should be released in March.

“The F.D.A. should keep companies focused on major clinical improvement for patients,” said Yngvild Olsen,medical director of the Institutes for Behavior Resources in Baltimore. “A more thoughtful approach to measuring meaningful clinical improvement could expand treatment options, but there is a danger; subjective outcomes that are neither here nor there could encourage the development of products of questionable value.”

And Dr. Andrew Kolodny, a director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University, said that the F.D.A. was smart to look for new treatments but that the biggest problem now in treatment wasn’t lack of effective medication, but lack of access.

“We already have an effective treatment that people aren’t getting access to,” he said. “The primary challenge is getting it to people.”

Continue reading the main story

This article is from NYT – go to source

‘Black Panther’ Crosses $700 Million Globally, Annihilating Newcomers

anastasios pallis
Photo
Danai Gurira as Okoye in “Black Panther.” The film has earned about $704 million worldwide and has yet to open in China or Japan. Credit Marvel/Disney

LOS ANGELES — If it keeps this up, “Black Panther” could be the newest member of moviedom’s $1 billion club.

Having had a week to absorb its record-setting arrival, Hollywood is now sizing up the staying power of Marvel’s latest superhero movie. In its second weekend, “Black Panther” demonstrated an astounding hold on audiences in the United States and Canada, collecting about $108 million and pushing its global total after only 12 days of release to roughly $704 million, according to comScore.

As a point of context, Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” collected $773 million in 2014 over its entire five-month run.

Imax, which is playing “Black Panther” in more than 60 countries, said people are paying to see the film more than once, a quality that the biggest of the big movies share. “This movie has very strong word of mouth and a deeply loyal core fan base, which are both necessary criteria for repeat business,” said Greg Foster, Imax’s entertainment chief.

And the euphorically reviewed film has yet to arrive in China and Japan, two of Hollywood’s biggest markets. Strong results in other Asian countries, including South Korea, bode well.

Photo
Three new films, including “Annihilation” with Natalie Portman, struggled to get noticed as “Black Panther” dominated ticket sales. Credit Peter Mountain/Paramount Pictures

For the weekend in North America, three new movies arrived in wide release, and each struggled to get noticed as “Black Panther” dominated. “Game Night” (Warner Bros.) did the best, taking second place with an estimated $16.6 million. New Line, a division of Warner, spent about $35 million to make the R-rated comedy, which received very strong reviews and stars Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman.

Continue reading the main story

This article is from NYT – go to source

How Companies Scour Our Digital Lives for Clues to Our Health

anastasios pallis

“It could help with understanding the effectiveness of treatments,” he said.

The field is so new and so little studied, however, that even proponents warn that some digital phenotyping may be no better at detecting health problems than a crystal ball.

If a sociable person suddenly stopped texting friends, for instance, it might indicate that he or she had become depressed, said Dr. Steve Steinhubl, director of digital medicine at the Scripps Translational Science Institute in San Diego. Or “it could mean that somebody’s just going on a camping trip and has changed their normal behavior,” he said.

“It’s this whole new potential for snake oil,” Dr. Steinhubl said.

That is not stopping the rush into the field — by start-ups and giants like Facebook — despite questions about efficacy and data privacy.

Scanning Posts for Suicidal Thoughts

One of the most ambitious efforts is being conducted by Facebook.

The company recently announced that it was using artificial intelligence to scan posts and live video streams on its social network for signs of possible suicidal thoughts. If the system detects certain language patterns — such as friends posting comments like “Can I help?” or “Are you O.K.?” — it may assign a certain algorithmic score to the post and alert a Facebook review team.

In some cases, Facebook sends users a supportive notice with suggestions like “Call a helpline.” In urgent cases, Facebook has worked with local authorities to dispatch help to the user’s location. The company said that, over a month, its response team had worked with emergency workers more than 100 times.

Some health researchers applauded Facebook’s effort, which wades into the complex and fraught realm of mental health, as well intentioned. But they also raised concerns. For one thing, Facebook has not published a study of the system’s accuracy and potential risks, such as inadvertently increasing user distress.

“It’s a great idea and a huge unmet need,” Dr. Steinhubl said. Even so, he added, Facebook is “certainly right up to that line of practicing medicine not only without a license, but maybe without proof that what they are doing provides more benefit that harm.”

For another thing, Facebook is scanning user posts in the United States and some other countries for signs of possible suicidal thoughts without giving users a choice of opting out of the scans.

“Once you are characterized as suicidal, is that forever associated with your name?” said Frank Pasquale, a law professor at the University of Maryland who studies emerging health technologies. “Who has access to that information?”

Will Nevius, a Facebook spokesman, said Facebook deleted the algorithmic scores associated with posts after 30 days. The cases involving emergency responders are kept in a separate system that is not tied to users’ profiles, he said.

Facebook said it had worked with suicide prevention groups when developing the effort. Mr. Nevius added that publishing a useful study would be complex because of the difficulty in removing personal data and “the delicate nature of the posts.”

Detecting Depression in Scrolls and Clicks

Therapists traditionally diagnose depression by observing patients and asking them how they feel. Mindstrong Health, a mental health start-up in Palo Alto, Calif., is observing people’s smartphone use.

The company has developed a research platform to continuously monitor users’ phone habits, looking at changes in taps and clicks for hints about mood and memory changes associated with depression.

“We are building digital smoke alarms for people with mental illness,” said Dr. Thomas R. Insel, a Mindstrong co-founder and a former director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

Mindstrong’s research app tracks 1,000 smartphone-related data points — like how long it takes someone to scroll through a contact list and click on a name. The start-up recruited 200 volunteers to participate in pilot studies. Dr. Insel said a few of the signals, like changes in users’ keyboard accuracy and speed, correlated with similar motor skills changes that researchers could measure in lab tests.

Now the company is participating in a large government-funded study of trauma patients. Part of it involves using the Mindstrong platform to study whether patients who go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder also develop corresponding changes in their smartphone use.

“We’ve got these really interesting statistical signals with very high correlations,” Dr. Insel said. “But whether that’s going to work in the real world of clinical care is something we’re looking at right now.”

He added that Mindstrong had tapped law and ethics experts to help examine the implications of its technology and develop ethical frameworks for using it.

“You want to think through all the unintended consequences early on,” Dr. Insel said, “so they don’t come back to bite you.”

Vetting Phone Calls for Signs of Stress

The traditional use of a phone — talking — is also being examined for health clues. Sharecare, a digital health company based in Atlanta, offers a wellness app with an optional feature that analyzes users’ stress levels during phone calls.

The system uses pattern recognition technology to categorize users’ speech, the company said. After each call, the system delivers reports like “you seemed anxious” or “you seemed balanced.” It also characterizes users’ relationships with the people they call in terms of attitudes like “dominance” or “affection.”

Jeff Arnold, a co-founder of Sharecare, described the voice scan as “an emotional selfie.”

“If I can tell you your stress level in real time, it will in itself change your behavior,” said Mr. Arnold, who previously founded WebMD.

Photo
Aaron Krolik, a software engineer in news technology at The New York Times, downloaded the Sharecare app and received this voice analysis message after he called Natasha Singer, a Times reporter.

Health insurers and self-insured companies use Sharecare to promote wellness and manage health care costs. Sharecare is working with the Georgia Institute of Technology to study the effectiveness of its voice analysis service.

Jiten Chhabra, a health tech researcher at the university’s Interactive Media Technology Center, said volunteers who tried the voice-scanning feature reported feeling less stressed afterward. But he said it was too soon to tell whether the stress analysis itself directly caused the change — or whether volunteers had simply become more relaxed in their daily lives.

The company does not record the content of the calls it scans, it said. But the app did collect phone numbers for people on the other side of calls from Sharecare users, according to an analysis by The New York Times. The service did not inform people on the phone with Sharecare users that their relationships were being analyzed.

Jennifer Martin Hall, a spokeswoman for Sharecare, said the way the company protected data “makes it practically impossible for any Sharecare employees to access a phone number in the call information.” She added that characterizing users’ voice “analysis in terms of ‘relationships’ helps contextualize the relevance of their stress and enables them to be more mindful day to day.”

Photo
Sharecare says its voice analysis feature does not record users’ phone calls, but it sends a notice after every call analyzing Sharecare users’ relationships — without informing people on the other end of the call that the app is doing so.

Other researchers said such pervasive scanning could also have the opposite effect — increasing stress on otherwise healthy people.

“It’s like we’re in school forever,” Professor Pasquale said, “and we’re being graded in all these ways forever by all the companies that have the most data about us.”

Continue reading the main story

This article is from NYT – go to source

Behind a Key Anti-Labor Case, a Web of Conservative Donors

anastasios pallis

And Mr. Uihlein has donated well over $1 million over the years to groups like the Federalist Society that work to orient the judiciary in a more conservative direction. They have helped produce a Supreme Court that most experts expect to rule in Mr. Janus’s favor.

The case illustrates the cohesiveness with which conservative philanthropists have taken on unions in recent decades. “It’s a mistake to look at the Janus case and earlier litigation as isolated episodes,” said Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, a Columbia University political scientist who studies conservative groups. “It’s part of a multipronged, multitiered strategy.”

In doing so, these donors have not just brought labor to the brink of crisis but threatened the Democratic Party as well.

Amid changes in the campaign finance landscape and the decline of private-sector unions, the party and its candidates have increasingly relied on major public unions for funding, including hundreds of millions of dollars in direct and indirect spending during the 2016 presidential cycle. Those unions include the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, whose Council 31 is the defendant in the Janus case.

Photo
Mark Janus, the plaintiff in a Supreme Court case challenging mandatory union fees, at the Illinois State Capitol. Credit Whitney Curtis for The New York Times

A recent paper by Mr. Hertel-Fernandez and two colleagues may foretell what Democrats can expect if Mr. Uihlein and his fellow philanthropists succeed. It found that the Democratic share of the presidential vote dropped by an average of 3.5 percentage points after the passage of so-called right-to-work laws allowing employees to avoid paying union fees. That is larger than Democrats’ margin of defeat in several states that could have reversed their last three presidential losses.

And that is clearly on the mind of Republicans. In a recent interview, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, acknowledged the potential of the Janus case to hurt Democratic fund-raising for the coming midterm elections. “In states where they got rid of the automatic deduction and employees figured they could keep their own money, they did,” he said. “So it could have an impact.”

Conservative groups aren’t alone in locking arms to advance an ideological agenda. For decades, liberal donors and foundations, sometimes working together through coalitions like the Democracy Alliance, have promoted liberal goals in a variety of ways. Some backed groups, like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, that used litigation to move American society leftward.

But the extent of the coordination on the right often dwarfs liberal efforts. Especially on the state level, conservative groups are “doing different things, mobilizing different constituencies,” Mr. Hertel-Fernandez said. “But they’re all working with one another. You don’t see the same thing on the left.”

As the percentage of unionized private-sector workers has collapsed in recent decades, public-sector unions, which have held steady in the mid-30s since the early 1980s, have increasingly become a target.

Conservatives chafe at the unions’ political influence, which they believe not only props up the Democratic Party but also drives up government spending and skews public policy on issues like education.

In 2011, Wisconsin rolled back the right of most public unions to bargain over anything other than wages and eliminated the requirement that nonmembers pay fees. The portion of unionized public-sector workers in the state plummeted from half to just over one-quarter within five years.

In seeking to produce similar results nationally, conservative donors have created a symbiosis between groups aiming to overturn Supreme Court precedent favorable to unions and groups that take advantage of those rulings to drain unions of members.

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation of Wisconsin, which had over $800 million in assets in 2016, has funded both kinds of organizations.

In a 2014 case brought by a group that had received more than $1 million in contributions from the Bradley Foundation, the Supreme Court ruled that home-care aides and other “partial-public employees” paid through Medicaid could not be forced to pay fair-share fees if they left their unions. Unions say these fees, typically about 80 percent of standard dues, are necessary to compensate them for representing nonmembers in bargaining and grievance proceedings.

Photo
A fund-raising solicitation from the Illinois Policy Institute, one of several groups that have fueled efforts to weaken public-sector unions.

Then in 2016, the court heard a case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, that could have struck down fair-share fee requirements for all public employees represented by unions in more than 20 states, including California, Illinois and New York. The case was brought by a group that has received millions of dollars from the Bradley Foundation.

During 2015 and 2016, the foundation also substantially increased its contributions, totaling well over $1 million, to groups like the Independence Institute of Colorado and the Freedom Foundation of Washington State. Those groups have used such tools as direct mail, phone calls and door knocking to persuade public-sector workers to give up union membership.

Richard Graber, the chief executive of the Bradley Foundation, said the foundation avoided short-term tactical considerations in its giving. But he acknowledged that the increase was driven partly by the recent Supreme Court developments, which promised to make such opt-out campaigns more compelling for union members. (Some conservative groups are currently raising money for even more ambitious opt-out campaigns to take advantage of a favorable ruling this year.)

In February 2016, the month after the Supreme Court heard the Friedrichs case, Justice Antonin Scalia died, depriving conservatives of a decisive fifth vote to strike down mandatory union fees. That gave the Liberty Justice Center, backed by Mr. Uihlein, a chance to try again.

Few philanthropists have funded a more sweeping assault on labor than Mr. Uihlein, who with his wife, Elizabeth, founded a Wisconsin-based shipping supply company called Uline.

Mr. Uihlein is an ardent conservative who considers many Republican office holders too moderate on fiscal and social issues, according to those who know him.

“It’s not just politics for him,” said his friend Leonard A. Leo, the Federalist Society executive vice president, who declined to offer specifics on Mr. Uihlein’s views. “I think he is philosophically attuned to conservative ideas,” added Mr. Leo, whom the Trump White House enlisted to shepherd the Supreme Court nomination of Neil M. Gorsuch, Justice Scalia’s successor.

The Uihleins have spent tens of millions of dollars over the past decade supporting Republican candidates and committees. That includes contributions to super PACs backing the 2016 presidential campaigns of Mr. Walker and Mr. Cruz, and at least $250,000 to help Mr. Walker survive a 2012 recall election. (Mr. Uihlein did not respond to a request for comment.)

The Uihleins appear to be preoccupied with state employee pensions and the unions that negotiate them.

“Bruce is the only one in the race who isn’t beholden to public-sector unions,” Mr. Uihlein said of Mr. Rauner, the year before his 2014 election as Illinois governor, in an interview with Crain’s Business Chicago. The Uihleins gave more than $2.5 million to his campaign.

Photo
Justice Neil Gorsuch speaking in November before the Federalist Society, which seeks a judiciary aligned with conservative values. He filled the Supreme Court seat vacated by Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016. Credit Sait Serkan Gurbuz/Associated Press

Mr. Rauner has been a major ally in the fight against public-sector unions. Shortly after taking office in 2015, he challenged the constitutionality of mandatory union fees in federal court.

By the time a judge ruled that Mr. Rauner lacked standing for his lawsuit, the Illinois Policy Institute, which drew more than one-third of its $5.8 million in revenue that year from Mr. Uihlein’s foundation, had found a viable plaintiff to replace him: Mark Janus. The Liberty Justice Center and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which Mr. Uihlein also contributes to, represented Mr. Janus in court.

Since then, the policy institute has sought to persuade state employees to leave their union through its mailing campaign. It said it had obtained employees’ names through Freedom of Information Act requests.

Mr. Rauner’s administration has amplified the institute’s message, and vice versa. In an August 2016 email to state workers, the administration highlighted a benefit of giving up union membership and urged workers to visit a website that would help them do so. The policy institute soon promoted the same website and provided similar guidance in its mailings to state workers.

Mr. Uihlein’s foundation has supplemented these efforts by supporting a nonprofit called Think Freely Media, which uses storytelling techniques to champion free-market ideas, including right-to-work laws. The Uihlein foundation contributed more than $1.5 million to Think Freely from 2014 to 2016, the last year for which tax records are available.

At the center of this network is a longtime conservative activist named John Tillman, who serves as the chief executive of the Illinois Policy Institute as well as the chairman of the Liberty Justice Center and Think Freely Media.

In an interview, Mr. Tillman, who managed a call center earlier in his career and talked up his “marketing-centric approach” to promoting free enterprise, said the institute is fighting the enormous power of union leaders but is not anti-union per se.

“In the late 1800s, early 20th century, business owners had all the power, and workers had very little power,” he said. “Unions and collective bargaining emerged as a way to level the playing field. I think it was an amazing story of success.”

But in other contexts, Mr. Tillman has been less conciliatory.

In a fund-raising solicitation by the policy institute in December, Mr. Tillman claimed credit for helping more than 2,600 workers leave their union, resulting in a loss of $1.2 million in union revenue.

“It’s time for Illinois to throw off the shackles of big labor and big government,” he wrote.

“When you and I look around Illinois and see the devastation the union-dominated status quo has inflicted,” he continued, “we simply have no choice.”

Continue reading the main story

This article is from NYT – go to source

Amuay Journal: ‘A Bomb on the Doorstep’: Venezuela Fishermen Fight an Oil Giant

anastasios pallis
anastasios pallis

But he also suggested that his cousin might sometimes take his campaign too far.

“He is a fighter for society, but sometimes it’s time to leave it behind,” he said, before expressing support for the administration of President Nicolás Maduro and the assistance it had given his council.

Elio Coromoto Reyes Cuauro, 67, a retired university professor and owner of a small inn in Amuay, said the fight for justice had suffered from the political divisions among the fishermen. If they were more unified, he argued, more benefits might accrue to the village from Pdvsa, including much-needed improvements in public services like roads, schools and electricity.

“If the people don’t fight together, there isn’t any force and you can’t achieve the shared objectives,” he said.

The archives of Mr. Sanchez’s 21-year struggle are stuffed haphazardly in two briefcases in the small, green-and-mustard-colored cement home where he lives with his wife, 100 yards from the bay.

“This is why Pdvsa doesn’t like me,” he declared on a recent morning, smiling impishly, as he reached into one of the briefcases and started yanking out fistfuls of dog-eared and creased documents — formal complaints, legal papers, newspaper clippings, photographs. He spread them out on a glass table, which filled up quickly, then he grabbed the other briefcase and emptied its contents — more of the same — on a couch.

Continue reading the main story

This article is from NYT – go to source

Singing Their Way Through Retirement

anastasios pallis
anastasios pallis

Here is a look at four other retirees who have turned to singing to give their lives a new feeling, and meaning.

Howard Smith, 89

Mr. Smith is one of the oldest members of Encore. After working as a foreign service officer at the State Department for decades, he retired and moved into Goodwin House, a continuing care facility in Falls Church, Va. Even while working at the highest levels of diplomacy in Congo, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Mexico, he had a nagging impulse to sing. He remembers being a young boy watching his mother perform on stage, wanting to know how it felt to make people happy with music.

When he retired from the government, he worried that pursuing a career in music was a lost cause. Encore helped renew his enthusiasm.

“Music is life,” he said. “I know that if I keep going to rehearsals for what we’re doing this coming season, that everything will be fulfilled. It’s what I really wanted to do. I didn’t have that opportunity professionally, but I’ve had it here.”

Even after he stopped driving, he maintained a full life at Goodwin House apart from the Encore rehearsals there: as a bingo caller, as a fund-raiser for holiday gifts for the staff, as a founder of a group that gathers to read plays together.

“Singing to me is the best medicine,” he said. “It makes you want to live a little longer.”

Tom Hoppin, 79

Mr. Hoppin is a sailor and member of the Annapolis area’s branch of Encore. He moved from Washington to a cottage in Shady Side, Md., after he retired as a banker and employee at a research firm that studied aging.

He has examined the ways singing improves physiological and mental health. His home on the water is small, so he uses his car and its sound system to practice his part along with CD recordings of Encore’s arrangements.

“It’s a little like going to the gym in that you’re learning how to breathe better and bend over better and stretch your muscles better,” he said. “People increase the range of their voices, start being able to hit high notes.”

Mr. Hoppin sings with former staff members of the Naval Academy and NASA, and with several widows who tell him that singing has helped them recover from loss. “We are mutually dependent on one another,” he said. “There’s a sense of reliance.”

And, he added, “There’s always an element of the spiritual side, in the sense that we’re living out of our own selves into a creative art.”

Liz Diamond, 71

“I’ve always been a bit of a ham and a bit of a show-off,” said Ms. Diamond, a former Alzheimer’s Association employee who came to Washington from Britain in 1979.

She is part of Encore’s chapter in Glen Echo, Md. Singing has helped convince her of the importance of community-building in retirement, of living a home life rich with the arts. It has also clarified to her what feels most meaningful about a life in the United States.

“Having those commitments in retirement is important,” she said.

Her choral group also allows her to make new friends. The kinds of careers specific to Washington mean they always have something to talk about.

“If you threw a stone in our chorus, somebody has written a book or done something rather important with their lives,” she said.

At home, she uses a bedroom to practice her parts for Encore.

“I have to go in there and screech my head off,” she said. “The cat leaves the room in disgust.”

Tony Tambasco, 78

Mr. Tambasco’s home study is full of texts he used as a religious studies professor at Georgetown University, where he taught for 35 years. When he joined Encore, his academic haven turned into one for music. He set up a Bose sound system that he uses to rehearse his parts.

Counting notes in the music has helped keep his mind sharp, and has brought out a new side of him.

“We’re singing a piece now that says, ‘viva la musica,’” he said. “It’s a piece that’s very melodic. I get choked up when I’m singing it sometimes. It’s hard to even sing it because I feel like I want to tear up in the middle of it.”

The music “has an effect on mind and heart,” he said, adding, “It makes for a happy life.”

Continue reading the main story

This article is from NYT – go to source