How America Shed the Taboo Against Preventive War – The Atlantic

If Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, or Ronald Reagan were transported to 2017, they would be shocked that the United States is considering an attack on North Korea.

A hidden assumption underlies the debate over North Korea. The assumption is that preventive war—war against a country that poses no imminent threat but could pose a threat in the future—is morally legitimate. … By historical standards, that’s astounding. … During the Cold War, the dominant figures in American foreign policy considered preventive war to be fundamentally un-American.

In the second half of the 20th century, when America’s leaders heard “preventive war,” they thought about Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. And for good reason. Both regimes had used the doctrine to justify their attacks in World War II. … Americans wanted a postwar system that outlawed such logic.

If Clinton peeked under a door that his predecessors had tried to bolt shut, George W. Bush flung it open. … Among the duplicities that attended Bush’s new doctrine was a linguistic one. Instead of admitting that he was embracing preventive war, Bush called it “preemption.” That was a lie. Preemptive war has an entirely different status in international law because it refers to an entirely different thing: a response to imminent attack.

It’s hard to recapture the horror that earlier generations of Americans felt about preventive war when it was still something that other countries did to the United States and not merely something Americans contemplate doing to others. They viewed it the way some Americans still view torture: as liberation from the moral restraints that human beings require. … Because Americans recognized that they were fallible, fallen creatures, they did not grant themselves the illegitimate, corrupting power of preventive war.

That humility has been lost. If asked whether China, Russia, or even France, has the right to launch wars against countries merely because those countries are building weapons that could one day pose a threat, Americans would quickly say no. They would recognize immediately that such a right, if universalized, threatens the peace of the world. Yet in both parties, policymakers grant that right to America.

Source: How America Shed the Taboo Against Preventive War – The Atlantic

The concept of labor-market “fissure” explains a lot of what’s wrong with the economy — Quartz

Source: The concept of labor-market “fissure” explains a lot of what’s wrong with the economy — Quartz by Allison Schrager

The dream of working your way up from the mail room to the corner office is no longer viable if everyone in the mail room is a contractor.

[Labor-market “fissure” is] what happens when more workers are contractors instead of employees.

Research by economists Larry Katz and Alan Krueger has explored the trends in alternative work arrangements like these (pdf). They estimate that non-standard employment (gig work, temp work, contractors) accounted for a around 10% of American workers between 1995 and 2005, but grew to some 16% of American employment in 2015. Much of the increase is attributable to “workers provided by contract firms.”

Short-term pressure to cut costs, such as during the global financial crisis, is not associated with greater workplace fissure, Krueger and Katz have found (pdf). This is a secular, not a cyclical, trend in the labor market.

Source: The concept of labor-market “fissure” explains a lot of what’s wrong with the economy — Quartz by Allison Schrager

The Profound Implications of 5 Increasingly Dominant Tech Companies

I’ve become surer of the simple, but profoundly impactful, realization that:

  1. The most valuable companies in the U.S. are increasingly tech companies.
  2. The concentration of value (as denoted by market cap) being created in tech, is increasingly being created by the five largest companies, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon (aka FAMGA)
  3. The concentration of market cap in just five hands will have an increasingly profound impact on innovation and wealth concentration in the U.S..

Source: The Profound Implications of 5 Increasingly Dominant Tech Companies

Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria – The Atlantic

“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”

There’s actually a long tradition of technology companies disregarding intellectual-property rights as they invent new ways to distribute content.

An advocacy group called the Authors Guild, and several book authors, filed a class action lawsuit against Google on behalf of everyone with a U.S. copyright interest in a book. (A group of publishers filed their own lawsuit but joined the Authors Guild class action shortly thereafter.) … it was “perhaps the most adventuresome class action settlement ever attempted.”

The DOJ objections left the settlement in a double bind: Focus the deal on Google and you get accused of being anticompetitive. Try to open it up and you get accused of stretching the law governing class actions. The lawyers who had crafted the settlement tried to thread the needle.

Many of the objectors indeed thought that there would be some other way to get to the same outcome without any of the ickiness of a class action settlement. A refrain throughout the fairness hearing was that releasing the rights of out-of-print books for mass digitization was more properly “a matter for Congress.” … Of course, nearly a decade later, nothing of the sort has actually happened.

People have been trying to build a library like this for ages—to do so, they’ve said, would be to erect one of the great humanitarian artifacts of all time—and here we’ve done the work to make it real and we were about to give it to the world and now, instead, it’s 50 or 60 petabytes on disk, and the only people who can see it are half a dozen engineers on the project who happen to have access because they’re the ones responsible for locking it up.

Source: Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria – The Atlantic

Courts Are Using AI to Sentence Criminals. That Must Stop Now | WIRED

Opinion: Courts should pause the use of algorithms for criminal sentencing.

Currently, courts and corrections departments around the US use algorithms to determine a defendant’s “risk”, which ranges from the probability that an individual will commit another crime to the likelihood a defendant will appear for his or her court date. These algorithmic outputs inform decisions about bail, sentencing, and parole. Each tool aspires to improve on the accuracy of human decision-making that allows for a better allocation of finite resources.

Typically, government agencies do not write their own algorithms; they buy them from private businesses. This often means the algorithm is proprietary or “black boxed”, meaning only the owners, and to a limited degree the purchaser, can see how the software makes decisions.

This lack of transparency has real consequences.

how does a judge weigh the validity of a risk-assessment tool if she cannot understand its decision-making process?

To accept AI in our courts without a plan is to defer to machines in a way that should make any advocate of judicial or prosecutorial discretion uncomfortable.

Source: Courts Are Using AI to Sentence Criminals. That Must Stop Now | WIRED, by Jason Tashea