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Fast-Food Workers Arrested In Fight For $15 Minimum Wage

| Thu Sep. 4, 2014 11:45 AM EDT
Police officers arrest a protester in front of a McDonald's restaurant in New York's Times Square on Thursday.

On Thursday, nearly two years after fast-food employees first walked off the job in New York City, workers in dozens of cities around the country are staging a new round of strikes aimed at winning workers a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union. This spate of walk-outs will see a significant escalation in tactics: home healthcare workers will join the day of action, and some workers will engage in civil disobedience. Several have already been arrested.

"On Thursday, we are prepared to take arrests to show our commitment to the growing fight for $15," Terrence Wise, a Kansas City Burger King employee and a member of the fast-food workers’ national organizing committee, said in a statement earlier this week.

Employees at restaurant chains including McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and Burger King are walking off the job and staging sit-ins in 150 cities nationwide, from Chicago to Oakland, Pittsburg to Seattle. During the last one-day strike in May, workers protested in 150 US cities and 80 foreign cities, forcing several franchises to close for part of the day.

So far, the massive chains have been resistant to bumping up workers’ wages. Nevertheless, the movement has dealt some serious setbacks to one of the biggest fast-food employers: McDonald's. The company's public image was tarnished significantly between 2013 and 2014, according to a recent study quantifying companies’ reputations. McDonald's sales have fallen over the past year amid ramped up scrutiny from Congress over its poverty wages. And in July, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that McDonald’s corporate can be held liable in worker lawsuits over wage-theft and working conditions. (The company had been arguing that it does not exert significant control over its franchises’ employment practices.)

The Service Employees Industrial Union, which has backed the workers from the start, hopes the addition of some of the nation’s 2 million home healthcare aides to the growing movement will put additional pressure on states and localities to raise their minimum wage.

On Labor Day, President Barack Obama gave the fast-food worker movement a morale boost. "All across the country right now there’s a national movement going on made up of fast-food workers organizing to lift wages so they can provide for their families with pride and dignity," the president said. "There is no denying a simple truth. America deserves a raise."

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Colleges Don't Teach Much, but College Students Don't Know It

| Thu Sep. 4, 2014 11:32 AM EDT

The Collegiate Learning Assessment is just what it sounds like: a test that measures critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and communications skills in college students. Several years ago, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa reported that most students didn't improve much on this test after four years of college, and a full third didn't improve at all. Now they've written a follow-up, which concludes, unsurprisingly, that students with high CLA scores do better in the job market than students with low scores. Kevin Carey provides the highlights of the rest of the study:

Remarkably, the students had almost no awareness of this dynamic. When asked during their senior year in 2009, three-quarters reported gaining high levels of critical thinking skills in college, despite strong C.L.A. evidence to the contrary. When asked again two years later, nearly half reported even higher levels of learning in college. This was true across the spectrum of students, including those who had struggled to find and keep good jobs.

Through diplomas, increasingly inflated grades and the drumbeat of college self-promotion, these students had been told they had received a great education. The fact that the typical student spent three times as much time socializing and recreating in college as studying and going to class didn’t change that belief. Nor did unsteady employment outcomes and, for the large majority of those surveyed, continued financial dependence on their parents.

....Mr. Arum and Ms. Roksa’s latest research suggests that within the large population of college graduates, those who were poorly taught are paying an economic price....Yet those same students continue to believe they got a great education, even after two years of struggle. This suggests a fundamental failure in the higher education market — while employers can tell the difference between those who learned in college and those who were left academically adrift, the students themselves cannot.

I suppose this is a specialized case of the Dunning-Kruger effect: incompetent people don't realize they're incompetent. There's probably not much universities can do about that, but it's disheartening that they're motivated to actively encourage it.

On the other hand, I suppose you can argue that it doesn't matter. After all, employers seem to figure out pretty quickly who's good and who isn't, so it doesn't do them much harm. And the kids themselves are better off for having a degree, even if they didn't learn much. So perhaps this is a Pareto-efficient situation after all.

ECB Finally Shows Signs of Taking Lousy Economic Growth Seriously

| Thu Sep. 4, 2014 10:20 AM EDT

In a surprise move, the European Central Bank cut interest rates nearly to zero today And there's more:

The central bank said that in October it would begin buying asset-backed securities, bundles of loans issued by banks to businesses and households....Perhaps more significantly, Mr. Draghi said that the central bank’s governing council was ready to take further measures if needed — a clear reference to quantitative easing, or broad-based purchases of government bonds or other assets.

“The governing council is unanimous in its commitment to using additional unconventional instruments,” Mr. Draghi said at a news conference....“Q.E. was discussed,” Mr. Draghi said. “A broad asset purchase program was discussed.” He said some members of the governing council favored starting such purchases, but others did not.

More from the Wall Street Journal:

While the ECB had in recent months indicated it was considering an ABS purchase program, the addition of a covered bond program and rate cuts was a surprise, and an indication that officials have grown increasingly concerned that the recent period of very low inflation could persist longer than first thought and may threaten the currency area's economic recovery.

"In August, we see a worsening of the medium-term inflation outlook, a downward movement in all indicators of inflation expectations," Mr. Draghi said. "Most, if not all, the data we got in August on GDP (gross domestic product) and inflation showed that the recovery was losing momentum."

It's still too little, too late—as usual with the ECB—but at least it suggests that European leaders are finally taking seriously the combination of low inflation and lousy economic growth in the eurozone. More please.

Reminder: Facebook Going Down Is Not A Good Reason To Call the Police

| Wed Sep. 3, 2014 4:13 PM EDT

Facebook suffered a brief outage today. When these kinds of things happen—and these kinds of things tend to happen—the key is to not lose your head. Don't panic. Stretch your legs. Go for a walk. Check out Twitter. Check out Tumblr. Check out the real world. Whatever you do, don't call the police.

Just remember: You're going to get through this.

No, Obama's Ukraine Policy Isn't "Muddled"

| Wed Sep. 3, 2014 2:44 PM EDT

Time's Michael Scherer writes today about President Obama's foreign policy:

“NATO must send an unmistakable message in support of Ukraine,” Obama said. “Ukraine needs more than words.”

The rhetoric hit its marks. The message, however, was muddled.

As he finished his speaking engagements, several questions remained about how he intends to deal with the multiple foreign policy crises facing his administration. He again condemned Russian incursions into Ukraine, and promised new U.S. and European help to train, modernize and strengthen the Ukrainian military. But his “unmistakable message” of support stopped short of defining or ruling out any additional U.S. military role should Russian aggression continue.

While he pointedly promised to defend those countries in the region who are signatories to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Obama offered no similar assurances to Ukraine, even as he highlighted that country’s voluntary contributions to NATO military efforts. Instead, Obama asked for a focus on a peace process that seems, for the moment, elusive.

“Since ultimately there’s no military solution to this crisis, we will continue to support [Ukrainian] President [Petro] Poroshenko’s efforts to achieve peace because, like all independent nations, Ukraine must be free to decide its own destiny,” he said, minutes after the Kremlin denied reports it had reached a ceasefire with Ukraine. As NATO leaders gather to consider imposing additional economic sanctions on Russia, Obama hailed the success of the U.S.-led sanctions regime, which has hurt the Russian economy but without stopping additional Russian military aggression in Ukraine.

This was not the only issue on which he left gray areas.

For excellent reasons, foreign policy statements nearly always include gray areas, so it would hardly be news if that were the case here. But it's not. In fact Obama's statement was unusually straightforward. He said the same thing he's been saying for months about Ukraine, and it's really pretty clear:

  • We are committed to the defense of NATO signatories.
  • Ukraine is not part of NATO, which means we will not defend them militarily.
  • However, we will continue to seek a peaceful settlement; we will continue to provide military aid to Ukraine; and we will continue to ratchet up sanctions on Russia if they continue their aggression in eastern Ukraine.

You might not like this policy. And maybe it will change in the future. But for now it's pretty straightforward and easy to understand. The closest Obama came to a gray area is the precise composition of the sanctions Russia faces, but obviously that depends on negotiations with European leaders. You're not going to get a unilateral laundry list from Obama at a press conference.

The rest of Scherer's piece is about ISIS, and it's at least a little fairer to say that policy in this area is still fuzzy. But Obama has been pretty forthright about that, and also pretty clear that a lot depends on negotiations with allies and commitments from the Iraqi government. That's going to take some time, and there's nothing wrong with that.

I should add that nobody on the planet—not even John McCain!—knows how to destroy ISIS. Everybody wants some kind of magic bullet that will put them out of business without committing any ground troops, but nobody knows what that is. So until one of the blowhard hawks comes up with an actual plan that might actually work, I'll stick with Obama's more cautious approach. I figure he'll do something, but only when politics and military strategy align to provide a plausible chance of success. In the meantime, mindlessly demanding more bombs—the only action that most of Washington's A-list apparently considers worthy of a commander-in-chief—is just stupid.

Idaho Professor Accidentally Shoots Himself While Teaching Class

| Wed Sep. 3, 2014 12:45 PM EDT

Allowing college students and faculty to carry guns on campus makes everybody safer, right?

If you answered that the way the NRA does, then maybe consider what just happened at Idaho State University on Tuesday afternoon: A professor was wounded when the gun he had in his pocket accidentally went off. According to local news outlet KIDK, the professor (who had a concealed-carry permit but hasn't been identified at this point) was in the middle of teaching class when he literally shot himself in the foot:

Around 4 p.m. Tuesday, Public Safety received a call about an accidental discharge of a concealed weapon in the Physical Science building. A student said the gun went off in the middle of the class.

Police said the small-caliber handgun was in the professor's pants pocket and was not displayed at any time. They said the professor was able to leave of his own accord. He was treated and released from the hospital.

In March, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter signed a bill into law allowing permit holders to bring their guns onto public college and university campuses, despite polls showing overwhelming opposition from students and education leaders in the state. As the Idaho Statesman noted at the time, "Aside from perhaps agriculture, the NRA is the most powerful interest group in the Idaho Republican Party."

How did a 9-year-old girl end up killing with an Uzi? And why did the NRA promote fun for kids with guns in the aftermath? See all of our latest coverage here, and our award-winning special reports.


Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2014/03/12/3076771_otter-signs-campus-guns-bill-into.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

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How Hackable Are Your Security Questions?

| Wed Sep. 3, 2014 12:15 PM EDT

Kevin Roose writes today that security questions are ridiculously easy to hack and we should get rid of them:

There are all kinds of ways to lock down your most important accounts — Gizmodo's guide is a good place to start....Eventually, some advanced form of biometric authentication (fingerprints, retina scans) may become standard, and security questions may get phased out altogether.

But until then, when so many better options exist, there's no reason a company like Apple should be relying on questions like "What was the model of your first car?" for password recovery in 2014. If that's the best way we have of making sure a user is legit, we might as well change all of our passwords to "1234" and hope for the best.

All kinds of ways? I was intrigued. So I clicked on the Gizmodo link and found....two suggestions. The first is two-step authentication, which is a fine idea for anyone with a cell phone. The second is encrypting all your data. But like it or not, this is much too hard for most people to implement. There's just no way it's going to become widespread anytime in the near future.

So, basically, there aren't all kinds of ways to lock down your most important accounts. There's one. And even it only works on some accounts. If my bank doesn't offer it, then I can't use it.

I'd offer a different perspective. First, the level of security you need depends on who you are. If you think the NSA is after you, then your security better be pretty damn good. If you're a celebrity, then it needs to be pretty good. If you're just some regular guy, then the truth is that fairly ordinary measures are adequate. You should use decently secure passwords, but that's probably about all you need to do for most of your accounts. Two-step authentication is a good idea for cloud accounts.

As for security questions, I suppose I'm on Roose's side. Just get rid of them. They're too easy to guess, especially for friends and family. Instead, either use a password manager or else create random passwords for your accounts and write them down on a piece of paper that you hide somewhere. I know you've been told forever to never write down your passwords, but the truth is that low-tech paper is actually pretty damn secure compared to anything digital.

Still, I can't help but take Roose's post as something of a challenge. Can we come up with security questions that don't suck? At a minimum they need two characteristics. First, the answers have to be clear and distinct. I've never been able to use "first pet," for example, because that's a little fuzzy. I can think of several possibilities. Second, the answers need to be genuinely hard to guess, even for family and friends—but still easy to remember for you. They don't need to be perfect, but they should certainly be better than "first car." Any ideas?

UPDATE: Also, I'm curious about something. For us ordinary mortals, there has to be some way to recover lost passwords. What should it be?

The Arab World's Version of the Ice Bucket Challenge: Burning ISIS Flags

| Wed Sep. 3, 2014 11:44 AM EDT

On Saturday, three Lebanese young men in Beirut protested the Islamic State by burning the extremist group's flag, a black banner emblazoned with the Muslim tenet "there is no god but God and Muhammed is his prophet." The teens then posted a video of the flag-burning online, exhorting others to do the same to demonstrate their opposition to the movement led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In recent weeks, the Islamic State has allegedly beheaded a Lebanese army sergeant and kidnapped about 20 Lebanese soldiers. The flag-burning campaign, modeled on the viral "Ice Bucket Challenge," quickly took off on social media under the hashtag #BurnISISFlagChallenge. "I nominate the whole world to #Burn_ISIS_Flag_Challenge. You have 24 hours. GO!!" wrote one Lebanese YouTube user.

Though the campaign hasn't spread throughout the world yet, it has received considerable attention in Lebanon, where many citizens have rallied behind the cause. But some Lebanese officials are not happy about the protest. Lebanese Minister of Justice Ashraf Rifi has called for the "sternest punishment" for the flag burners for their "insult" to the Islamic religion and its symbols. He contends the flag is a religious relic, not a symbol of the Islamic State. And he claimed the flag-burning could "stir up sectarian conflicts" and, consequently, was illegal under Lebanese law, according to newspaper Asharq al-Aswat.

Nabil Naqoula, a member of Lebanon's Change and Reform parliamentary bloc, took issue with Rifi and maintained that the protesters who started the movement did not intend "to insult the Islamic religion." Ibrahim Kanaan, a member of the same group, offered legal support to the three young men who launched the flag-burning frenzy if they are charged with a crime.

The Islamic State's flag has flown everywhere from a Chicago motorists' window last Wednesday as he made bomb threats against the police, to the streets of Tabqa in northeast Syria where the extremist group seized a military airbase. The black banner has become synonymous with the group's radical violence and mercilessness. 

Here are a few examples of Lebanese activists taking the flag-burning challenge:

Needed: A New Marketing Strategy For Defending the Indefensible

| Wed Sep. 3, 2014 11:29 AM EDT

Richard Fink, the Koch brothers' top political strategist, explained recently why they're having trouble reaching the "middle third" of the country that's relatively non-ideological:

Yeah, we want to decrease regulations. Why? It’s because we can make more profit, OK? Yeah, cut government spending so we don’t have to pay so much taxes,” said Fink. “There’s truth in that....But the middle part of the country doesn’t see it that way.”

“When we focus on decreasing government spending, over-criminalization, decreasing taxes, it doesn’t do it, OK? We’ve been reaching the [middle] third by telling them what’s important — what we think is important should be important to them. And they’re not responding and don’t like it, OK? Well, we get business — what do we do? We want to find out what the customer wants, right, not what we want them to buy,” he said.

Imagine that. When the middle third of the country hears the message that regulations should be cut back so that corporations can make more money, it doesn't respond well. So what's the answer? Find out what they do respond to and use that as an excuse for less regulation instead. Ixnay on the ofitpray!

As Fink says, this is pretty ordinary marketing. Still, it'll be interesting to see what they come up with. Obviously the Kochians feel like they need a new set of selling points for reduced corporate regulation, and it needs to be something that Joe and Jane Sixpack can identify with. I wonder what it's going to be?

Knock Knock. "Who's There?" "Donald Trump."

| Wed Sep. 3, 2014 11:05 AM EDT

(Knock knock)

"Who's there?"

"Donald."

"Donald who?"

"Donald Trump."

(Deadbolts door)

"Honey! Quick, hide the kids! An anti-vaccine lunatic is here!"

"Oh Jesus!"

"Hurry! Take them into the basement."

"Aren't you coming?"

"I have to make sure you're safe."

"No, please! Come with us!"

"Mommy!"

"This is my responsibility. I am your wife. I am their mother...Please, I love you. What type of mother would I be if I let some anti-vax nut near our kids?"

"I love you so much."

"I love you so much. Go, please."

(Husband and kids begin down stairs to basement, wife prepares to close basement door, husband looks up at her one last time)

"I'll pray for you."

"Pray for all of us."

(Wife closes door, returns to entry hall, Donald is still knocking)

"Hello? You there? This is no way to treat Donald Trump! This is a lot like the time Dennis Rodman was on my hit show. He came into the boardroom and I said—."

"Please, just go away."

(Beat)

"I have no where else to go."

(Beat)

(Wife opens door)

"Come in. We'll watch one episode. Just until the doctors arrive to take you back to the hospital."

"Want to see pictures of my resorts?"

"Sure, grandpa. Sure."

The end.