Archives for November 2018

The Mueller Investigation May Be Safe Despite Matt Whitaker

The days since the midterms have been filled with developments in the probe of special counsel Robert Mueller, whose weeks of public silence leading up to the election belie a frenzy of activity, grand jury meetings, and investigative steps that his probe has pursued.

The next shoes to drop seem likely clear: GOP operative Roger Stone has long suspected he’ll be indicted. Stone ally Jerome Corsi suggested in a recent YouTube livestream that he may face charges as well. Even Donald Trump’s son, Donald Jr., has reportedly discussed with friends the possibility of his own indictment. At the same time, the forced resignation of attorney general Jeff Sessions, and appointment of his chief of staff Matt Whitaker to be the acting attorney general—a decision that is of at least debatable legality—has raised fears that the Trump administration is closing in on firing Mueller himself.

Yet as the dust settles from the midterms and Sessions’ abrupt departure, there are five clear reasons to be optimistic that the rule of law will hold, and that Mueller will be able to complete his probe, regardless of what he ultimately finds. But there’s also one clear reason to be pessimistic.

First, the reasons for optimism:

1. The investigation is quite far along. Mueller’s team has been working at breathtaking speed for a federal investigation. In a little over a year, he’s brought numerous charges, won cooperation and guilty pleas from numerous high-profile figures, and been victorious in the one case that went to trial. He’s likely known where his investigation will lead for months, and has a clear set of targets in his sights. While court cases and filings might continue for years to come in some of the prosecutions, Mueller has always known that his investigation wasn’t meant to last forever. There are plenty of signs that we’re closer to the denouement of the Russia probe than to its beginning.

2. It’s not like any of this took Mueller off guard. There’s no scenario where Bob Mueller awoke last Wednesday, saw the news of Sessions’ firing and Whitaker’s appointment, and was surprised. Rumors had swirled since the summer that Jeff Sessions would depart—voluntarily or not—right after the midterms. Matt Whitaker’s name had even been floated in September as a possible replacement for deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein in overseeing the probe. More broadly, Mueller has lived for 16 months with the knowledge that he might be fired at almost any minute by an impulsive, capricious president who has made no secret of his fear and dislike of the investigation. Mueller knows that Trump has already tried to fire him, and that the person who stopped those previous firing fits—then-White House counsel Don McGahn—is now gone.

What Mueller’s “Doomsday plans” might be, we don’t know—but it would be prosecutorial malpractice for Mueller’s team not to have made careful preparations for what happens immediately in the hours after he’s fired or the investigation is blocked. The plans could involve already sealed indictments, court battles challenging his firing, a pre-written report to Congress, or any other manner of ready-to-execute paperwork or public campaign.

3. There are lots of pieces of the case scattered across the US government. The “Mueller probe,” as we short-hand it publicly, is increasingly no longer tied to Mueller himself. Parts of the investigation have been picked up by multiple US attorney offices, and some of the most active work—the investigation growing out of Trump fixer Michael Cohen’s guilty plea to campaign finance violations—is completely separate, being run by the Southern District of New York prosecutors in Manhattan. This arm of the case, in fact, is the only one that has actually named Donald Trump himself in court documents, alleging that Cohen was acting under the orders of “Individual-1,” a thin pseudonym for Trump himself, given that the court documents make clear that “Individual-1” became president of the United States in January 2017.

Shutting down the entire probe and its various related angles would not be as simple as axing Mueller. As former SDNY head Preet Bharara tweeted in August, “Practice note: Trump has no effective way to shut down any investigation being conducted by SDNY. That office is more insulated, enduring and ‘sovereign’ than the Special Counsel’s Office. You can fire Mueller. You can fire the US Attorney. You can’t fire the SDNY.” Any attempt by Whitaker to reach down into the Southern District and stymie the Cohen probe would further the public controversy and, if pushed, almost assuredly lead to the resignation of career federal prosecutors angered by the move.

Similarly, just as FBI investigations require a formal procedure to open, the require a formal procedure to close. Should Mueller himself be removed from the probe and the special counsel’s office shuttered, much of the work underway by FBI agents and prosecutors on the case would likely just continue without him.

4. The Justice Department runs on norms. Even if Whitaker arrived in the top role at the Justice Department with ill intentions, he’s now locked in a bureaucracy with a strong culture, guidelines, and regulations that may circumscribe his actions. Much of the fear that Whitaker would seek to stymie, block, or shutter the Mueller stems from his public writings and comments on the case. He has criticized the probe, argued it should be limited in scope, and is close friends to Sam Clovis, a figure so closely tied to the probe that it torpedoed his nomination to a top Agriculture Department job last year.

Under normal circumstances, that apparent conflict of interest would likely force him to recuse from supervising Mueller’s probe, returning the role to Rod Rosenstein. That precise scenario of an apparent conflict, after all, is what forced Sessions himself to give up the role, hand it to Rosenstein, and draw endless ire from Trump himself.

The first test of Whitaker’s behavior and intentions was whether he would forge ahead overseeing the probe or seek approval from ethics attorneys to do so first. The good news: Whitaker opted for the latter. Word came this week that Whitaker would seek an opinion from career Justice Department ethics attorneys about whether it was appropriate for him to supervise the probe. “Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker is fully committed to following all appropriate processes and procedures at the Department of Justice, including consulting with senior ethics officials on his oversight responsibilities and matters that may warrant recusal,” a Justice Department spokesperson said Monday.

What advice those ethics attorneys might give, and whether Whitaker will follow it, remains to be seen. But that he’s at least soliciting their opinion is a promising start.

5. Congress has leverage. The fact that Democrats have retaken the House of Representatives, a role that gives them subpoena power, will surely restart Congress’ stalled oversight system. The Republican-led Congress has all but abdicated serious oversight of the executive branch over the last two years, a critical part of the checks and balances established under the American rule of law.

Should Whitaker or the Trump administration seek to block or remove Mueller in any way, the legislative branch would surely get involved. Under the regulations of the special counsel office, in fact, any dispute that might arise between Mueller and Whitaker would have to be reported to Congress, a moment that would surely launch hearings, subpoenas, and all manner of public frenzy.

All of that said, there’s one overarching reason for pessimism that Mueller’s probe will be allowed to complete its work at its own pace: There’s no clear justification for Whitaker’s appointment other than shutting down Mueller’s probe.

The Justice Department has a clear line of succession in the absence of a Senate-confirmed attorney general, and there’s no apparent emergency or exigent circumstances that would prohibit any of those officials from serving in the role. Whitaker’s leap from the chief-of-staff role to acting attorney general is unprecedented, especially given that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, is perfectly capable of leading the department—and there are all manner of Senate-confirmed Justice Department officials ready to step in if something were to happen to Rosenstein. The seemingly out-of-left-field appointment only makes sense if it was made because Whitaker has publicly questioned the Mueller investigation.

What we do know is that Mueller’s not wasting any time: His team was hard at work on Veterans’ Day Monday—at least eight of his prosecutors showed up at the office. His grand jury will likely next meet in just 48 hours.

Garrett M. Graff (@vermontgmg) is a contributing editor for WIRED and the co-author of Dawn of the Code War: America’s Battle Against Russia, China, and the Rising Global Cyber Threat. He can be reached at [email protected]


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This 1 Simple Thing Can Help After a Conflict

If you’ve been in conflict with someone today, there’s something remarkably simple that can help you feel better: a hug.

The power of a single hug

A recent study of about 400 people, published in the online journal PLOS ONE, found that hugs helped improve any negative effects caused by conflict. Receiving even one hug was linked with a smaller decrease in positive emotions and a smaller increase in negative emotions.

Previous studies have found similar results about the power of hugs, but this was the first study that did not focus on romantic or family relationships. Many of the hugs, therefore, came from others–such as friends and colleagues–but were still just as effective.

“We were not surprised to find that people who reported receiving a hug appeared to be protected against poorer moods related to experiencing conflict,” reported lead study author Michael Murphy of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The findings were the same for men and women, though women experienced more conflict and received more hugs over the course of the two-week study.

Receiving gentle touches from someone we love and trust releases serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin in our brains, hormones that help to modulate fear and anxiety, and encourage social attachment. Touch also communicates empathy and can have a painkilling effect.

The benefits of caring touch go even further: it can reduce stress and strengthen the immune system.

The importance of having people around you

Of course, receiving a hug requires being face-to-face with someone. These days, when so much of our work can be done remotely, it is still important for us to cultivate positive relationships with people around us. Having people physically near us can help us be healthier and happier–which helps us to better manage and bounce back from conflict and stress.

The lack of touch can have a corresponding effect. Loneliness, in addition to its obvious implications for mental health, also leads to increased illness and a 50 percent increased risk of early death. A review of more than 200 studies found that loneliness is deadlier than obesity and should be considered a major public health hazard.

So if you’ve had a hard day, ask a trusted colleague or loved one for a hug. Even if you haven’t had a hard day, you can offer a hug to someone in your life.

This kind of moral support, in the form of gentle physical touch, can make all the difference in our workplaces and homes. And because having close relationships has also been linked with longevity, we may even live longer when we reach out to each other and show that we care.

Exclusive: Dell taps banks to raise more cash for tracking stock offer – sources

(Reuters) – Dell Technologies Inc (DVMT.N) is working with investment banks to add more cash to a $21.7 billion offer to buy back a “tracking stock” tied to its software company VMware Inc (VMW.N) as it nears a deal with investors, people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

A Dell sign is seen during the China International Import Expo (CIIE), at the National Exhibition and Convention Center in Shanghai, China November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

The move comes after several investors in the tracking stock, including billionaire Carl Icahn, said they would not accept Dell’s first offer, arguing it transfers too much value to Dell’s owners, founder Michael Dell and private equity firm Silver Lake.

The acquisition of the publicly traded tracking stock would result in Dell becoming a publicly listed company without an initial public offering (IPO). Dell needs a majority of the holders of the tracking stock to approve the deal. A vote on the tracking stock offer has been scheduled for Dec. 11.

Dell issued the tracking stock in 2016 to buy data storage company EMC for $67 billion because it could not pay for the entire deal in cash and did not want to add to its debt burden. EMC owned a majority stake in VMware, which Dell inherited.

The security “tracks,” or depends on, the financial performance of VMware, and has been trading at a significant discount to VMware’s stock. This has emboldened investors such as Icahn to argue that Dell’s offer undervalues the tracking stock.

Dell has so far offered $109 in cash for each tracking share, up to $9 billion in total, with the remainder payable with 1.3665 shares of Dell’s Class C common stock for each tracking share. That is equivalent to a 41/59 cash-stock split. Dell has said it plans to use a special dividend from VMware to fund the $9 billion portion of the deal.

Dell and tracking stock investors are now close to a deal, according to the sources. Dell is hoping to conclude negotiations with owners of the tracking stock and table a new offer as early as this week, the sources said. Negotiations have focused on a valuation of between $120 and $130 for each tracking share, though a final decision has not been made, some of the sources added.

The sources asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential. Dell and Silver Lake declined to comment. The Wall Street Journal had reported last week that Dell was looking at improving on its tracking stock offer.

The tracking stock jumped 5 percent to $103.49 on the news, its highest level since it started trading in 2016.

The tracking stock battle has echoes of the $24.9 billion deal that Dell and Silver Lake clinched to take the company private in 2013, a transaction that Icahn also opposed. In that case, Icahn also managed to secure a slight improvement to the offer.

Michael Dell has turned to deal-making to transform his company from a PC manufacturer into a broader seller of information technology services, ranging from storage and servers to networking and cyber security.

As a public company, Dell could more easily use its stock as currency for acquisitions. While its debt has dropped from $57.3 billion following the EMC deal to $50.3 billion, it remains heavily indebted. The company continues to pay down debt and has told investors it aims for an investment-grade rating sometime next year.

Other investors that opposed the original tracking stock deal include P. Schoenfeld Asset Management LP, which earlier this month asked Dell to raise its offer by 20 percent. Hedge fund Elliott Management Corp is also not satisfied with Dell’s offer, sources have said.

Reporting by Liana B. Baker and Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis

How a TV Host’s Retweet Could Change Twitter

When MSNBC host Joy Reid saw a tweet decrying a racist incident this summer, she responded like many other people—she retweeted it.

The tweet in question came from an activist and showed a photo of a woman in a Make America Great Again cap appearing to berate a 14-year-old Latino boy. A caption implied she shouted “dirty Mexican” and “You are going to be the first deported,” and urged Twitter users to “spread this far and wide” because “this woman needs to be put on blast.”

Unfortunately for Reid, whose retweet broadcast the message to her 1.2 million followers, the tweet was wrong. The woman in the image, Roslyn La Liberte of Southern California, had said nothing of the sort.

The teenager in the picture later explained he and La Liberte had a civil conversation, and said the pair even hugged.

Five days after the retweet, Reid acknowledged the mistake by tweeting a news story that described what really happened:

By then, however, La Liberte had hundreds of vitriolic emails, which called her vile names and threatened to assault her. She also received menacing voicemails, including one from a man who shouted, “I will smack you upside your f**king head you stupid f***ing c**t.”

Sadly, this is all too common on Twitter: Someone posts a false and inflammatory tale, others retweet it, and an online mob descends on the unlucky target. This episode stands out, however, because La Liberte is suing Reid in federal court for allegedly defaming her with the retweet.

La Liberte may have a case. While judges have been inclined to treat inflammatory tweets (including those of Donald Trump) as opinion or hyperbole—types of speech that don’t count as defamation—that doesn’t mean you can’t libel someone on Twitter. Falsely portraying someone as a vicious racist could certainly qualify.

Reid, of course, didn’t do that. Instead, she just used Twitter’s retweet button to repeat what someone else said. The law, however, might not see a difference between tweeting and retweeting.

Lawyer Ed Klaris, who runs a media and intellectual property firm in New York, doesn’t see a distinction.

“The traditional rules of re-publication apply. You as a tweeter are very much a publisher,” says Klaris. He likens the situation to a newspaper that prints a letter to the editor that contains false and defamatory information. In such a case, the target of the letter can sue both the letter writer and the newspaper.

Or, in the context of Twitter, La Liberte can sue the author of the tweet as well as Reid for republishing it via her retweet. Klaris isn’t the only one who sees it this way; a recent Hollywood Reporter story cites lawyers who think Reid will lose the case.

If a judge agrees with this interpretation, the consequences could be enormous. A victory for La Liberte would create a new danger not only for journalists, but for many other Twitter users who inadvertently retweet false information from time to time.

Courts Silent on Retweets

La Liberte’s lawsuit doesn’t specify how much money she’s seeking over Reid’s tweet, but does state the claim is worth at least $75,000.

There’s no guarantee La Liberte will prevail, of course. In response to a request for comment, her lawyers sent a document to Fortune, which argues the case should be thrown out, and that La Liberte should pay damages for filing a frivolous lawsuit.

This isn’t just wishful thinking. Reid’s lawyers are relying on a well-known law known as the Communications Decency Act (CDA). The law, broadly speaking, says “no provider or user of an interactive computer service” can be held responsible for what other people say on an Internet platform.

Many Internet entrepreneurs have relied on the CDA as a legal foundation for their business. For instance, the law ensures Facebook isn’t responsible for criminal threats posted by its users, or that a blog owner isn’t liable for defamatory rants posted by a trollish commenter.

How the law applies to retweets is unclear, however. Even though Twitter’s retweet button has been around since 2009, no court has decided whether those who retweet defamatory claims are shielded by the Communications Decency Act.

Professor Eric Goldman, who has written extensively about the law, says retweets are clearly covered.

“It’s not even a hard case. Retweeting is just a different technical way of sharing third party content with a broader audience,” he said, citing a pair of cases involving email. In those cases, courts sided with defendants who sent or forwarded defamatory content written by a third person.

Free speech scholar Eugene Volokh, who recently published a blog post on the email cases, shares Goldman’s view. In an interview with Fortune, he added that Reid’s case is strengthened by the fact her retweet didn’t include additional comment endorsing the opinions in the tweet.

Meanwhile, the New York lawyer Klaris disagrees that a judge will let Reid use the CDA as a shield. He argues that allowing the law to protect anyone who retweets a false statement is too broad a reading, and would make the traditional republication rule meaningless.

“Taken to its logical extreme, according to the defendant’s argument, a “user” (i.e. reader) of Fortune.com could cut an entire defamatory article and paste it to her own site without changing it and not be liable for defamation,” he said. “That outcome does not make sense.”

A Bigger Role for Twitter?

As it stands, the Reid case is troubling because either outcome will produce an unsatisfactory result. If La Liberte wins, millions of people will face legal jeopardy for the commonplace act of sharing what they see on social media—a situation that would chill free speech. But if Reid wins, there is little to dissuade people from contributing to online mob behavior of the sort that dragged La Liberte through the mud.

This raises the question of whether Twitter and other online platforms should do more to stop false and defamatory information from going viral in the first place. One idea for addressing the problem—incidentally, suggested by a former Fortune editor—is a warning system would let those in Reid’s situation respond more promptly by broadcasting a correction (as Reid did but only five days later), and by removing the original retweet or shared post from their social media feeds.

This wouldn’t stop people from sharing defamatory content altogether (it’s just too easy when all it takes is clicking “retweet” or “share”) but it would certainly mitigate the problem. But would the social media companies even consider offering such a notification tool?

“This is an ongoing legal issue. We don’t have a statement to share,” said a Twitter spokesperson in response to a question about Twitter’s obligations in the Reid case.

The response is not surprising. Social media platforms have long seen policing user posts as a political minefield, and are wary of becoming arbitrators in deciding what is defamatory or fake news.

In this vacuum of authority, Klaris predicts courts may become more willing to interpret the CDA in a way that curtails the law’s protection. He acknowledged, however, that they have declined to do so in the past and that it may be a matter for Congress.

Volokh, the free speech scholar, pointed to legal precedents establishing a broad scope for the law, and says any changes should come from lawmakers, not the courts.

The White House's Fake-News Shenanigans Top This Week's Internet News Roundup

Another week, another seven days so full of events that it’s difficult to remember all that’s happened. That’s especially true on a week that saw another mass shooting, as if everyone needed a reminder of what that felt like. I mean, we were just a week out from the last one, so perhaps some people had forgotten. Elsewhere, California is on fire again, Scotland has made LGBTQ education compulsory and someone’s getting free soup. Of course, this week was dominated by the midterm elections, which took place on Tuesday, but lingers like a cold; results and hot takes are still coming in as I write this, despite everything else that happened this week to steal the attention of the internet. What kinds of everything else? We’re glad you asked!

Don’t Look Back In Anger

What Happened: Normally, it’s only the President of the United States who prematurely ages during his White House tenure—but according to this week’s favorite meme, it’s happened to all of us.

Where It Blew Up: Twitter, media reports

What Really Happened: It was fair to say that a lot of people had a lot of anxiety about this week’s midterm elections. They were, after all, being touted as the most important in a generation and a potential rebuke to President Trump, even though he personally wasn’t on the ballot and refused to take responsibility for any Republican losses, even though many GOP House members fretted that he had hijacked the campaign. No surprise, then, that people took to Twitter prior to Election Day to vent their anxiety.

As the meme got picked up by the media, at least one person took a different approach to the meme, just to emphasize that the election hadn’t actually happened yet.

Let’s be honest: as a motivator, this is far, far better than the ensuing deluge of “I Voted” sticker selfies across social media.

The Takeaway: At least Concerned Voter and celebrity Mark Ruffalo impersonator Mark Ruffalo joined in—because aren’t we all Bruce Banner these days?

The End Of The Tour

What Happened: In his first public appearance after the midterms, President Trump seemed like he wanted to come across as unbothered—but the reality was just the opposite.

Where It Blew Up: Twitter, media reports

What Really Happened: So, yes; the midterm elections happened, and even if people debated the reality of theBlue Wave,” Democrats took control of the House for the first time in eight years, giving them the chance to investigate his dealings (and his taxes) and curb his power. Many people wondered just how he’d react, but the president’s initial response to the midterms was certainly not what people expected:

Pressing ahead with his weird victory lap, he announced a press conference for the next morning:

How did it go? Probably not the way he imagined.

The surreal, combative, disaster was obviously much discussed across the media, because of course it was; it was a chance to watch the President live down to everyone’s worst expectations across an almost unbelievable 87 minutes. All that was missing was someone being fired by proxy from the White House — but, wait, we’ll get there soon enough.

The Takeaway: What should be the takeaway from this meltdown? Let’s go with the one that perfectly summarizes the problem, as President Trump would no doubt be secretly delighted by it.

Me Or Your Lyin’ Eyes

What Happened: The Trump Administration takes its war on the press to the next level after a particularly intense confrontation gets the literal fake-news treatment.

Where It Blew Up: Twitter, media reports

What Really Happened: By Thursday, it had become obvious that an exchange between the President and CNN reporter Jim Acosta during the previous day’s press conference had turned into something far bigger than the traditional Presidential press bullying. The problem—well, a problem—began as the right-wing Twitterverse sought to use the moment to bring down Acosta:

Did it work? Better than anyone could have anticipated. (“Better” in a very specific context, of course.)

Yes, the White House pulled Acosta’s press credentials after the press conference, which is a totally normal thing to do, yes, definitely. Hey, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, what gives?

In other words, Sanders was repeating the right-wing version of events, which is problematic for reasons we’re about to get to. Before that, though, CNN responded quickly:

The network wasn’t the only organization releasing a statement:

Here’s the thing, though; Jim Acosta didn’t actually do what he was accused of by Sanders and the White House, as he pointed out:

It doesn’t have to rely on his word, though; the press conference was broadcast live, including the event (mis-)described by Sanders; but that didn’t stop Sanders from tweeting out a doctored video in support of her argument:

Yes, that’s right; the White House press secretary was sharing a doctored video to argue her case. Funny story — it was actually the same video that had been posted by an InfoWars contributor earlier that evening:

People noticed the connection.

Here’s CNN’s VP of Communications and Digital Partnerships on the release:

Oh, and here’s a comparison between the raw footage and the version posted by—once again—the White House press secretary:

The dude from InfoWars claimed that he hadn’t touched the video:

Well, surely he’s telling the truth, right?

At time of writing, reporters are condemning the White House’s move, and others are making the argument that this isn’t a fight the President should have. You’d think that that someone so stuck in the past as President Trump would remember the saying about never arguing with people who buy ink by the barrel

The Takeaway: This is just the beginning of a bigger fight—and one that’s likely going to happen sooner rather than later.

Wave Hello, Say Goodbye

What Happened: If no one expects the Spanish Inquisition, and no one expected the president to fire his attorney general immediately after the midterm elections, does that mean that Jeff Sessions was a victim of the Spanish Inquisition? Asking for a friend who may or may not be fired A.G. Jeff Sessions.

Where It Blew Up: Twitter, media reports

What Really Happened: As if this week wasn’t seem busy enough with everything happening all at once, a tidbit of news broke just an hour or so after the Wednesday press conference, potentially explaining why the President was acting so testy. (As if the midterms wouldn’t have been explanation enough.)

…Wait. What? But, yes, the Attorney General had resigned, when no one was expecting it.

Please note the opening sentence of that letter, because it’s important:

Yes, the resignation came at the President’s request, which is to say, Jeff Sessions was fired, which is a big deal. As should be expected, the internet was sad to see him go:

But people didn’t get too carried away with the upside of what was unfolding, because once again, the President firing his Attorney General when he’s under investigation by the authorities overseen by that Attorney General is a big deal:

The President announced his replacement via Twitter, because of course he did:

As if we needed any more proof that the government is a well-oiled machine these days, Twitter was also how people at the Department of Justice found out about Sessions’ resignation, it was swiftly announced:

Who is this Matthew Whitaker, anyway?

…Oh. As it turned out, Whitaker was a fascinating choice for a replacement, based on everything that came out about him in a surprisingly brief period:

He is almost definitely not going to recuse himself. But then again, he may not have the position for that long. In the face of widespread disbelief at his hiring, Trump stood behind his choice in traditional fashion on Friday:

The Takeaway: Chalk another White House departure up for the man famous for firing peo — oh, apparently not.

I’ve Fallen, But I Can Totally Get Up and Mete Out Justice

What Happened: The Notorious RBG had a bad week, but the internet was there for her with offers of anything and everything she needed, from emotional support to literal body parts.

Where It Blew Up: Twitter, media reports

What Really Happened: Bad news for anyone who loves Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg arrived late this week:

RBG’s fall was obviously big news, with multiple outlets covering the story, and social media was equally excited about it. Maybe “excited” wasn’t the right word to use, though; some were people looking to reassure others that there was no reason to panic, after all.

Others were simply preparing for whatever it takes to keep Ginsburg in good health, if not all-out action:

And then there was the question of what actually happened to consider…

Of course, everyone here at While You Were Offline Towers sends all the best to the Notorious one, as well as good wishes for a speedy recovery. We need you out there, Justice Ginsburg. Have you seen what else is happening?

The Takeaway: But did anyone consider the possibility that RBG’s injuries were self-inflicted and done for a very particular reason?


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A New Study Ranked All 50 States By How Fat Their People Are, and the Results are Eye-Opening

A new study ranks all 50 states plus the District of Columbia by how fat their residents are. And there are some real surprises.

Across the United States, a staggering 70 percent of people are either overweight or obese. It’s part of what drives the $66 billion weight loss industry, which is always a good target for entrepreneurs.

But it also adds $200 billion a year to our nation’s health costs. 

So, this state ranking combines 25 different data points on each state’s population to help us figure out which states have the biggest problems. Each state was then assigned a combined score from 1 (best) to 100 (worst). The data included things like:

  • percentage of residents (adults and children) who are overweight or obese;
  • percentage of residents who are physically active (or not);
  • percentage of adults with high cholesterol;
  • percentage of adults with healthy diets (and who eat at least 1 serving of fruits and vegetables each day).

Obviously, the mere fact that someone lives in a supposedly fit or fat state doesn’t mean he or she personally is overweight or not. Heck, I live in the 11th fittest state according to this, and I’m well aware I could lose a few pounds.

But the ranking does challenge some of the stereotypes about where the healthiest people might live in the country. Here’s the list, which was put together by WalletHub. We’ll do this backwards, going from worst to first, and discussing the states briefly in tiers.

Tier V: The fattest states

All of the worst states on this list were in the South, and the absolute worst state in terms of fatness ranking was Mississippi, with a score of 72.97 out of a possible 100.

Mississippi also had the worst ranking in the country in terms of obesity and overweight prevalence. And in another study, Mississippi workers also reportedly got the least exercise of anyone in the country. The full bottom tier looks like this:

51.    Mississippi    72.97 out of 100 (1 is best; 100 is worst)
50.    West Virginia    70.14    
49.    Arkansas    69.69
48.    Kentucky    67.71
47.    Tennessee    67.67
46.    Louisiana    66.89
45.    Alabama        64.56
44.    South Carolina    63.64
43.    Oklahoma    63.09
42.    Texas        62.45

Tier IV

The second to the bottom tier largely consists of states in the so-called Rust Belt.  

41.    Indiana        62.44
40.    Ohio        62.39
39.    Delaware    62.27
38.    Georgia        61.46
37.    Michigan    61.30
36.    Missouri    59.70
35.    North Carolina    59.17
34.    Iowa        58.77
33.    Maine        58.36
32.    Kansas        58.30

Tier III

It’s a little more difficult to say exactly what states like Rhode Island, Florida and Alaska have in common. However, these are largely states with a larger percentage of senior citizen residents, which could be a factor.

31.    Wisconsin    57.87
30.    Rhode Island    57.86
29.    Nebraska    57.24
28.    Maryland    57.12
27.    Pennsylvania    56.83
26     Wyoming        56.72
25.    North Dakota    56.46
24.    Illinois    56.15
23.    Florida        56.12
22.    Alaska        55.90

Tier II

If you were to look at the list of states where people get the most exercise at work, you’d see that the top 20 in each list are almost identical. (The order is different, but the grouping is very close.) Seems like that could be a big clue.
21.    Virginia    55.83
20.    New Mexico    55.49
19.    South Dakota    55.15
18.    Washington    55.10
17.    New Hampshire    55.10
16.    Arizona        54.68
15.    New York    53.75
14.    Minnesota    53.64
13.    Nevada        53.07
12.    Idaho        52.52

Tier I

Here are the top 10 states (plus D.C.), with the most fit residents. Interestingly, they’re also largely (but not exclusively) urban states, where you’d think people have limited outdoor space and are more likely to work long, stressful, sedentary jobs.

But, apparently the people in metro areas around places like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. are the ones who make time to exercise, eat right, and watch their weight.

And to the folks of Colorado, who topped both this list and the exercise at work list, keep up the good work. 

11.    New Jersey    52.40
10.    Oregon        52.13    
9.    Vermont        52.07
8.    Connecticut    51.80
7.    Montana        50.83
6.    California    49.97
5.    Washington, DC    49.49
4.    Massachusetts    48.09
3.    Hawaii        46.97
2.    Utah        44.41
1.    Colorado    44.35 

An A.I. Just Outperformed 20 Top Lawyers (and the Lawyers Were Happy)

The set up of the study was an old-fashioned head-to-head matchup. Twenty of the country’s top corporate lawyers were pitted against a specialized A.I. called the the LawGeex AI in a battle to see who could spot the flaws in five Non-Disclosure Agreements with the greatest speed and accuracy. The issues with the common documents were previously established by an independent team of expers, including law professors from Duke, UCLA, and a senior partner from a top corporate law firm.

So who won this epic (if nerdy) battle of man versus machine? Sorry human fans, it was the bots.

The LawGeex AI achieved “an average 94 percent accuracy rate, higher than the lawyers who achieved an average rate of 85 percent. It took the lawyers an average of 92 minutes to complete the NDA issue spotting, compared to 26 seconds for the LawGeex AI,” reports Hacker Noon.

That isn’t even close.

Should we all panic now?

At first glimpse these results (and other recent feats of successful robo-lawyering) sound like pretty terrible news for lawyers specifically and knowledge workers generally. The study seems to back up predictions from consultancy McKinsey that 22 percent of lawyers’ work will be taken over by robots in the coming years.

But when Hacker Noon reached out to the vanquished lawyers to get their feelings about their defeat, they responses they got back were surprisingly upbeat. In fact, some of the legal hot shots sounded downright thrilled to be bested by the bot. Here’s a sampling of their comments:

  • “[A.I.] can really help lawyers sift through these documents, and cut down on the sometimes-deliberate verbosity of these documents which can allow one party to mask core issues.” – Zakir Mir

  • “I think this would help clients in getting better pricing and allow lawyers to focus on more complex projects.” – Samantha Javier

  • “Participating in this experiment really opened my eyes to how ridiculous it is for attorneys to spend their time (as well as their clients’ money) creating or reviewing documents like NDAs which are so fundamentally similar to one another. Having a tool that could automate this process would free up skilled attorneys to spend their time on higher-level tasks.”  – Grant Gulovsen

  • “As a chess player and attorney I will take from Grandmaster Vishy Anand and say the future of law is ‘human and computer’… Either working alone is inferior to the combination of both. I view AI and technology as exciting new tools that would allow for such drudgework to be done faster and more efficiently.” – Justin Brown

  • “AI has huge potential in reducing time on standard contract reviews and making legal advice accessible and affordable for all.” – Hua Wang

In other words, McKinsey is right. Robots are poised to take significant parts of lawyers’ jobs off their plates. But the twist is, lawyers can’t wait to hand this work off to an A.I. 

The robots are coming for the worst parts of your job.

These responses highlight a problem with much of the commentary on A.I. disruption of existing jobs. Yes, robots are going to change things considerably in a lot of industries, and that will be a wrenching transition for some workers. Questions also remain about how to divvy up the spoils of the coming A.I. revolution. These are undeniably big challenges.

If a computer can accomplish the repetitive, soul-sucking parts of many professions that will free up human talent to work on more complex and creative problems. That might mean coasting through a mindless gig to make ends meet will be harder in the future, but if that’s not your aim, the rise of the robots very well may make your workday a lot more fulfilling and fun.

There Are 4 Innovation Personalities. Which One Are You?

Here is a personality test for leaders: those who create products, services, and businesses, those who manage teams big and small, and those who have to be agile thinkers to face complex challenges. Read through the four groups below–Revolutionary, Evolutionary, Traditional, and Reactionary–and see where you fit in as a leader. Then think about your team. And then your organization. Where do they fit in too? And how can you collectively achieve the change and innovation needed? 

I have personally a soft spot for Revolutionaries, because dedication to innovation is thrilling, makes you feel like you’re living at the cutting edge and serving a bigger purpose. I have also learned how quickly scales can change and top organizations and their leaders can get burnt out and retreat to the safety of incremental change. Inversely, Evolutionaries can become Revolutionaries; and Naysayers can become the best advocates for disruption once they see the value of being a Revolutionary. 

Being at the service of people, solving problems for others, making someone’s life better, more joyful or easier–which is what innovation is about–is not a talent that only a few can attain. Neither is it a static skill that, once acquired, stays with you. It is an organic set of skills, tools, and processes you decide to have, practice and keep. In other words, it is inclusive and accessible if you know where you are now and where you want to be in the future, which is where this quiz comes in handy. 

What is your current innovation personality? What personality do you aspire to be?

Revolutionary

Different sources call you different things–A Reinventor, Disruptor, Provocateur, Innovator. You revolutionize the way something is done. You are a design thinker. In other words, you think like a designer. Positive, open-minded and curious, you are energized by new ideas. You see change as an opportunity, not as a challenge. You use design tools and an iterative process to solve problems. Getting close to your customer is fundamental to your thinking. Only then can you make sure you ask the right questions. To that end, you use co-design with customers.   Journey mapping helps you to uncover your hidden customer needs, and fast prototyping allows you to experiment with solutions. You are not afraid of constraints and know how to use them to your advantage.

“The Reinventors, making up 27 percent of the total, are the standouts. They report that they outperformed their peers in both revenue growth and profitability over the past three years, and led as well in innovation.” IBM Global CEO study on Digital Reinvention

Synonyms: Reinventor, Disruptor, Provocateur, Innovator.

Evolutionary

You are a change agent of the cautious kind. You are comfortable with incremental change. You might be a recovering Revolutionary who got hit by market forces and lost some of your courage and daring to be the first. Or you have the ambition to become a Revolutionary and are gathering experience. As David Peterson, Director of Leadership Development & Executive Coaching at Google would say, you need to sub-optimize and be less perfect to experiment more and adapt to constant change with more agility. You want to think like a designer, but you may not have the right tools and process. You need to get out of your comfort zone and get up close and intimate with your customers. Experimenting more, and more quickly, breaking internal silos to create cross-functional teams and co-designing with your customers to include them in ideation will push you to the Revolutionary group.

According to Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a healthy dose of prudence is not bad for innovation. “Contrary to what many people think, successful innovators are more organized, cautious, and risk-averse than the general population.”

Synonyms: Practitioner (coined by IBM). Pragmatic.

Traditionalists

Your one dominant characteristic is that you feel like your solution is fine just the way it is. When asked if your users are happy, you will say “yes” but deep down you know you’ve grown farther and farther away from your customer. The good news is there are many ways to build empathy and get closer to them. Once you move away from a product-centric mindset to an experience-centered one, improving people’s lives will give you the courage to develop your own unique vision. Your previous successes may hold you back, but what got you here is not helping you get there (if you haven’t, read Marshall Goldsmith’s best-selling book, What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There). Having the vision, strategy and tools to recognize and capture the right opportunities will move you to the Evolutionary group. 

Synonyms: Conventional. Aspirational (coined by IBM).

Reactionary

You resist change and have a strong tendency to block new ideas. It is the fear of unknown which makes it easier for you to come up with why something will not work. You are the skeptic. Yet you know that agility and experimentation are key to how organizations are evolving. You will become a great convert to thinking like a designer if you can see its value–making you more agile, customer-centered and comfortable with experimenting. 

“Saboteurs. The people and groups who can obstruct or derail the process of searching, evaluating, and purchasing a product or a service.” Alex Osterwalder, Value Proposition Design

Synonyms: Blockers, Resistants, Naysayers, Saboteurs (coined by Alex Osterwalder). 

How did you do? Remember knowing who you are and who you aspire to be on the innovation scale is half the battle. The other half is actually practicing it on a daily basis. 

This Famous Airline Thought It Would Offer Veterans Special Pre-Boarding. The Reaction Was Shocking

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Some things are, though, universal, aren’t they?

That must be what the bosses at Virgin Australia thought when they offered veterans priority boarding.

But Australia isn’t necessarily like, say, America.

Frankly, nowhere is. 

When you’ve lived in different countries on different continents — guilty as charged — you garner a wider perspective on how people think and, just as importantly, the nuances that go into their feeling processes.

So, instead of a gloriously positive reaction, some veterans rather thought Virgin should take its offer and shove it back in the cargo hold it was stored in.

Oh, and “faux American bollocks.”

Instead, she suggested: “Spend more on suicide prevention and health support.”

Neil James, the head of the Australian Defence Association also suggested there were better ways to help. 

“There’s a fine line between embarrassing them and thanking them and, in some cases, where they’re suffering a psychological illness, effusively thanking them in public might not necessarily help them,” he said of veterans.

On Twitter, many piped up with similar feeling.

Sample, from John H. Esq.: “Jeez! Do veterans really want this type of peurile [sic] Americanised faux recognition of their service?”

The airline seemed so stunned by the reaction that its CEO John Borghetti issued this statement: 

Over the coming months, we will be working consultatively with community groups and our own team members who have served in defense to determine the best way forward.

In America, there’s considerable — and, some might say, superficial — support for veterans.

Indeed, our nation has many curious, vaguely militaristic and nationalistic habits that other nations find curious. Flag unfurlings and national anthem renditions before every single sporting event, for example.

In Australia, though, perhaps veterans want tangible benefits, rather than being used for marketing purposes.

Interestingly, one of Virgin’s rival airlines, Qantas says it has no intention of offering veterans priority boarding.

It offered this statement: 

We carry a lot of exceptional people every day, including veterans, police, paramedics, nurses, firefighters and others, and so we find it difficult to single out a particular group as part of the boarding process.

Doesn’t that seem wise?

Midterm Elections 2018 Give Legal Weed Even More Momentum

And so a few more dominoes fall. Michigan voted to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, while Utah and Missouri legalized it for medical use, according to projections made late Tuesday night. (A recreational measure in North Dakota failed, though medical cannabis remains legal there.) They join 31 other states that have already gone the medical route, and nine others that have gone fully recreational.

That’s a win for the citizens of these states—cannabis is far and away safer than alcohol and comes with a range of proven medical benefits, and still more that researchers are exploring. But it also may be a win for cannabis nationwide: The more states that legalize cannabis, the likelier it is that federal prohibition will topple soon.

“Momentum is gaining for change in Congress to allow states to determine their own marijuana policies,” says Morgan Fox, media relations director at the National Cannabis Industry Association. “Two thirds of the country wants marijuana to be legal, and politicians are ignoring that at their peril.”

This midterm election’s outcome is relevant to more than just the end game of dissolving the federal prohibition of cannabis. The momentum could also help the states that have already voted to legalize the drug but remain hamstrung by federal regulation. Over the summer, for instance, the Senate Appropriations Committee torpedoed an amendment that would have allowed banks to work with cannabis companies. This, of course, is a major headache for the industry: If a cultivator or distributor or dispensary can’t find a bank to work with, it’s kinda hard to do business.

States where marijuana is legal are also currently blocked from helping veterans gain better access to cannabis. In September, Congress stripped another amendment that would have allowed physicians affiliated with the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana in states where it’s already legal.

So, the theory is that with more states voting to legalize, that attitude would trickle up to their representatives in Washington. And one particularly tall hurdle just fell. Republican Pete Sessions of Texas, the chairman of the House Rules Committee who’s been blocking votes on cannabis amendments, just lost to Democratic challenger Colin Allred. How serious is Allred about medical marijuana? It’s telling that he called Sessions out on the veterans amendment.

But then again, the cannabis momentum isn’t coming from politicians, but from the people. “One of the interesting political dynamics of cannabis legalization is that it’s happening in almost every state by ballot initiative,” says Ryan Stoa, author of the book Craft Weed: Family Farming and the Future of the Marijuana Industry. “Meaning, it’s not as if legislators are reading the tea leaves.”

Meaning, maybe we’re pinning too much hope on politicians to push for the federal reform their voters want. “For whatever reason, there still seems to be a lot of hesitation on behalf of politicians, even in the face of strong public support for legalization,” Stoa says.

It’s in a state’s best interest, though, to have cannabis legalized federally, because the economics of cannabis is nutso. Historically, California has provided perhaps three quarters of the domestically grown cannabis in the United States. That’s been over the black market, of course. But even though California has gone recreationally legal, that black market persists, both in-state (high taxes mean some patients skip the legal market) and across the country. Cultivators are “producing more supply than consumers are demanding in the state of California, which means a lot of that supply is going out of state on the black market,” says Stoa.

When a state goes legal, the cannabis sold in-state must be produced in-state (the feds don’t like interstate cannabis markets, for obvious reasons). But legalizing comes with severe growing pains. Small California growers, for instance, are buckling under the weight of new regulations meant to protect the environment and consumers. It’s mighty tempting, then, to skip selling to distributors (which in turn safety-test the product) and instead go black market and sell it all themselves out of state.

“The black market is thriving, and it’s going to continue to thrive,” says Swami Chaitanya, a (legal) grower in California’s legendary Mendocino County. “And the fact is that when it goes legal in those other states, then all of the persecution tends to drop down a level, until I imagine more black market will go to those states that are now legal.”

The fragmentation of the market could be especially acute in states that follow a similar, highly regulated legalization path as California, but that don’t have massive-scale local production of cannabis. Nevada had that problem, same with Colorado. But shortages would be less of a problem in the first place if cannabis were legal federally and producers could sell their products legitimately across state lines.

How Michigan, Utah, and Missouri settle into legal cannabis is to be seen, as is the pace with which Congress gets around to federal legalization. But a bit of bright news: we’ve got fresh faces. “With the new Congress,” says Chaitanya, “it’s almost a question of not so much, does it get legalized in most states, but are the congressional people elected going to be pro-cannabis?”

For the sake of their constituents, economies, prison systems, and the country in general, let’s hope so.


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