From the LA Times:

A Texas judge blocked President Obama's bid to expand overtime pay protections to millions of Americans on Tuesday, thwarting a key presidential priority just days before it was set to take effect. The Labor Department rule would have doubled the salary level at which hourly workers must be paid extra for overtime pay, from $23,660 to $47,476. Siding with business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Texas District Judge Amos L. Mazzant III halted it.

Hmmm. This sounds oddly familiar:

It’s the fourth time in 21 months that a federal judge in Texas has issued a nationwide injunction blocking one of President Barack Obama’s executive orders [actually, it was a federal regulation –ed]. The other Obama initiatives stymied in Texas courtrooms involved shielding undocumented immigrants from deportation, mandating bathroom access for transgender students, and requiring labor-violation disclosures by federal contractors.

....U.S. District Judge Amos L. Mazzant III in Sherman, Texas, rejected a request by the federal government to limit any order to the states that filed the lawsuit and issued a preliminary injunction blocking the new salary cutoff nationwide.

I guess that's that. If you want a local judge to block an Obama initiative and apply his ruling to the entire country, go to Texas. Apparently they're all willing to do it down there.

In case you're interested, here's the key paragraph from the judge's ruling:

To be exempt from overtime, the regulations require an employee to (1) have [executive, administrative or professional] duties; (2) be paid on a salary basis; and (3) meet a minimum salary level....The salary level was purposefully set low to “screen[] out the obviously nonexempt employees making an analysis of duties in such cases unnecessary.”...But this significant increase to the salary level creates essentially a de facto salary-only test.

In other words, exempt employees are supposed to be executive, administrative or professional workers paid on a salary basis. The salary level itself is included in the regulations solely as a convenience. It's pretty much inconceivable that anyone making less than $23,000 has any bona fide EAP responsibilities, so there's no point in bothering with the other two tests.

However, someone making $47,000 might very well have genuine EAP responsibilities. Thus, categorically excluding everyone under that level means that some EAP workers will likely get classified as nonexempt solely on the basis of a salary test. This thwarts the will of Congress, which specifically intended that EAP duties had to be taken into account.

That's the judge's ruling, anyway. I'll bet Obama is sorry now that he appointed him.

Ben Carson, one week ago:

Business manager and close friend Armstrong Williams said Carson won't join the incoming Trump administration and would only serve as an unofficial adviser...."Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience, he's never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency."

Ben Carson today, asked about his qualifications after being offered a position as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development:

"I know that I grew up in the inner city," Carson said. "And have spent a lot of time there. And have dealt with a lot of patients from that area. And recognize that we cannot have a strong nation if we have weak inner cities. And we have to get beyond the promises and start really doing something."

In other words, he has no qualifications at all. I suppose Trump finally found the one thing Carson wouldn't mind crippling.

The whole thing is kind of weird. My guess is that Trump is pretty desperate to get Carson on his team because he doesn't want the press to be able to say that his cabinet is all white. And Carson is probably the only black person Trump knows aside from Mike Tyson and Don King. But if that's the case, why not offer him HHS? That would make at least some borderline sense since Carson is a doctor. Or maybe Surgeon General. Or the Department of Commerce, since Carson has lots of grifting experience.

Still, I guess we have to look at this from Trump's point of view:

The MIT Technology Review updates us on the progress in computer lip reading:

In one project, a team from the University of Oxford’s Department of Computer Science has developed a new artificial-intelligence system called LipNet. As Quartz reported, its system was built on a data set known as GRID, which is made up of well-lit, face-forward clips of people reading three-second sentences....When tested, the system was able to identify 93.4 percent of words correctly. Human lip-reading volunteers asked to perform the same tasks identified just 52.3 percent of words correctly.

....Another team from Oxford’s Department of Engineering Science, which has been working with Google DeepMind, has bitten off a rather more difficult task. Instead of using a neat and consistent data set like GRID, it’s been using a series of 100,000 video clips taken from BBC television. These videos have a much broader range of language, with far more variation in lighting and head positions....The Oxford and DeepMind team managed to create an AI that was able to identify 46.8 percent of all words correctly.

....Differences aside, both experiments show AI vastly outperforming humans at lip-reading.

For some reason, this had never occurred to me as a near-term use of AI—despite Stanley Kubrick's warning half a century ago about the dangers of berserk computers who can lip read.

But of course, it makes total sense. Reliable, widespread use of computer lip reading is still a little ways off, but it's pretty obvious that it will start to work tolerably well in real-life situations within a few more years. The implications for our future panopticon society are pretty obvious.

Here's a Donald Trump timeline on climate change:

2012: The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.

2014: Give me clean, beautiful and healthy air - not the same old climate change (global warming) bullshit! I am tired of hearing this nonsense.

2015: Obama's talking about all of this with the global warming and ... a lot of it's a hoax. It's a hoax. I mean, it's a money-making industry, okay? It's a hoax, a lot of it.

January 18, 2016: I often joke that this is done for the benefit of China. Obviously, I joke. But this is done for the benefit of China, because China does not do anything to help climate change.

August 11: I would say it goes up, it goes down, and I think it’s very much like this over the years. We’ll see what happens. I mean, we’ll see what happens. ... Certainly, climate has changed.

September 13: There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of “climate change.”

September 26: I do not say that [climate change is a hoax].

Today: "I think there is some connectivity" between humans and climate change, Trump says.

So there you go. A year ago climate change was a hoax. Three months ago climate change had gone up and down. Two months ago it was no longer a hoax. Today it's definitely for real and partly caused by humans.

Yet another disappointment for his fans. On the bright side, I'm sure he has no intention of actually doing anything about climate change, even if he now claims to believe in it.

Steve Bannon, in July:

Donald Trump today:

Well, I guess that settles that! I'm sure we'll be hearing an announcement from Trump shortly that he's decided to accept Bannon's resignation.

During the 2016 election, the chant of "Lock her up" followed Donald Trump everywhere he went. And he reveled in it. He promised on national TV to do exactly that, and during the final days of the campaign—after James Comey released his calamitous letter—he practically spoke about nothing else. Hillary Clinton was the most corrupt person ever in history, and when he became president he'd make sure she spent the rest of her natural days behind bars.

His fans loved it. But apparently they're going to be disappointed:

On Tuesday, Mr. Trump essentially said: "never mind," signaling that he does not intend to pursue investigations into his rival's use of a private email server or the financial operations at the Clinton family's global foundation.

In an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program, Kellyanne Conway, the former Trump campaign manager and a senior adviser to his transition, said the president-elect wanted to "move beyond the issues of the campaign" and confirmed that Mr. Trump did not want his promised Clinton investigations to take place.

"If Donald Trump can help her heal, then perhaps that's a good thing," Ms. Conway said.

Isn't that sweet? Trump is going to help Hillary Clinton "heal." What a guy.

Of course, he's also signaling that he won't undertake the most corrupt use of the Justice Department since Watergate. So that's a positive, I guess.

Anyway, the bottom line here is that shipping Hillary off to Sing Sing was never something Trump planned to do in the first place. It just sounded good and made his crowds happy. Once the election was over, he didn't care anymore. I wonder how many more of Trump's promises fall into that category? His supporters are about to find out just how far the Trump con goes.

Three years ago James Reston Jr. published The Accidental Victim, arguing that Lee Harvey Oswald was actually trying to kill Texas Gov. John Connally, and hit JFK only by accident. Some of the evidence comes from items collected after Oswald was arrested:

A Secret Service officer named Mike Howard was dispatched to Oswald’s apartment. Howard found a little green address book, and on its 17th page under the heading “I WILL KILL” Oswald listed four men: an FBI agent named James Hosty; a right-wing general, Edwin Walker; and Vice President Richard Nixon. At the top of the list was the governor of Texas, John Connally. Through Connally’s name, Oswald had drawn a dagger, with blood drops dripping downward.

Oddly, this page was subsequently ripped out of the little green book. No one knows how it happened. Reston also argues that Oswald had plenty of reason to hate Connally (as head of the Navy Department he had refused Oswald's request to restore his honorable discharge from the Marines) and no reason to hate JFK. What's more, Oswald's wife repeatedly testified that that Connally was Oswald's target.

I've never heard this theory before, and Reston's book doesn't seem to have gotten much attention. But his conclusion is clear:

For 53 years, a cottage industry has developed over the motive for the Kennedy assassination. It had to be connected to the Mafia or the Russians or the Cubans or Oswald’s Marxist beliefs or Jack Ruby’s petty crimes in the Dallas underworld....[But] Oswald was no coldhearted professional assassin under orders. The real answer to the reasons he took aim are to be found in his frustrations and obsessions. And the real tragedy of Dallas lies in the accidental death of a president who just happened to be in the line of fire.

So what's the deal here? Is this a real thing? Or just more JFK assassination crankery? If nobody believes Reston's theory, I'd at least be curious to hear the debunking.

David Roberts reports today on changes at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. In particular, they've proposed a new rule that would allow small, distributed energy resources to compete in the wholesale electricity market:

There’s a wide range of DERs: generation, like rooftop solar; storage, like home or EV batteries; and smart software/devices/appliances, like the Nest thermostat.

Until fairly recently, DERs were too widely dispersed, poorly tracked, and small in scale to play a role in wholesale energy markets. To participate, they needed to be more trackable, predictable, and controllable.

That’s starting to happen. In particular, it is now possible to aggregate large numbers of DERs into "virtual power plants." By using information technology to coordinate the behavior of a large number of distributed devices, an aggregator can effectively make them behave like a single, large, predictable source.

It sounds great that new technology allows DERs to supply electricity to the wholesale market. This will make electricity markets more competitive, and I can't think of any compelling reason that Republicans should hate the idea of FERC recognizing this. Well, I can think of one: it involves a regulation proposed under the Obama administration.1 Will that be enough to kill it? Stay tuned.

1Plus it's kind of vaguely carbon friendly and therefore kinda sorta associated with climate change. So I guess that's two reasons.

Today an Argentinian journalist reported on a phone call between the Big Apple and the Big Apple:

Would Trump do something like this? Sure. Would both sides deny it if he did? Of course. On the other hand, the only evidence behind it is the unsourced report of a leftist journalist who has no love for Argentine President Mauricio Macri. It's hardly likely that the New York Times would run with something like that. Especially considering this:

Jorge Lanata, an Argentine journalist, said on his show Sunday that Trump had advocated during the phone call for approval of the construction of a Trump-branded property in Buenos Aires. But Lanata prefaced his statement by saying, “mitad en joda, mitad en serio,” which roughly translates to “half joking, half serious.”

That preface was dropped from a story about the report in Talking Points Memo, which quoted an account from La Nacion, an Argentine newspaper. The TPM story promptly attracted controversy on social media and was followed by a formal denial from Macri’s office.

Beyond this, you really can't wait a few hours and then declare that the media has dropped the whole thing. Any serious news outlet would spend time reporting this out before running anything, and that could take days or weeks. So maybe they've dropped it, maybe they haven't. We'll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, Trump has met with some of his Indian business partners; he's trying to hire Jared Kushner, who is married to his daughter Ivanka, who will be running the Trump Organization in his absence; he's reportedly thinking about using his own hotel to put up foreign delegations; he has explicitly refused to divest himself of his business interests or even make a modest attempt to keep them at arms length; and both Mike Pence and Reince Priebus think any concern over this is just ridiculous.

In other words, I don't think we're going to lack for examples of obvious cronyism and conflicts of interest in the Trump White House. If the Argentinian thing doesn't pan out, plenty of other episodes of Trumpian venality will.

Atrios has a question:

I'm a bit confused about the obsession with all of the soon to be out of work truck drivers due to automated technology. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan of industries being crushed too quickly....Still "what about the truck drivers" seems to get a lot more attention than other industries greatly hit by changes in technology/trade rules/taste evolutions/supply chain modifications.

....I'm not arguing it'll be a good thing for people impacted by it, just curious why this particular bad thing which hasn't even happened yet gets so much attention.

Like a lot of journalists, I wrote a piece for publication after the election that became suddenly obsolete on the morning of November 9 and was promptly sent down the memory hole. However, it happens to include an answer to Atrios's question. So in the spirit of never wasting any of my precious words, here it is. It's framed as advice to, um, president-elect Hillary Clinton:

Start thinking about robots. Don’t laugh. Ordinary automation has been part of the labor scene for decades, but smart machines haven’t yet had a big effect on semi-skilled and unskilled labor. That’s about to change. If this wasn’t clear already, it became alarmingly concrete in October when a trucking company delivered 50,000 cans of Budweiser from Loveland to Colorado Springs—without a driver. Within a few years, this technology will go from prototype to full production, and that means millions of truck drivers will be out of a job.

But that’s not even the worst of it. Self-driving trucks—and cars and buses and ships—rely on software that mimics human intelligence. Once that software is good enough to drive a truck, it will be good enough to do a lot of other things too. It won’t be millions of people out of work, it will be tens of millions.

The jobocalypse is still a decade away, but progressives should be out in front on this—and Clinton should make a start on figuring out solid policy responses that can become a cornerstone of her future economic policy. This isn’t something that needs to involve Congress at this point. President Clinton can do it all on her own.

Aside from the fact that it's visible, easy to understand, and relatively near-term, the reason that automated trucking draws a lot of attention is that it's likely to be the first truly widespread, economically disruptive application of artificial intelligence. And it's gaining on us.