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Highlights From The Comments On Technological Unemployment

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Thanks to everyone who commented on the post about technological unemployment.

From Onyomi:

Not saying I necessarily think this is what is going on, but one simple possible explanation for why technological unemployment could happen now when it never happened much in the past could be quite simply the greatly accelerated pace of change.

For most of history, technological change was very, very slow. The past few hundred years we’ve moved increasingly to a place where each new generation has to learn to function in a world different from the one their parents grew up in. We could now be moving to a world where each generation has to learn to function in multiple worlds over the course of a lifetimes, which may stretch the limits of human adaptability.

Versus Bugmaster:

I don’t know much about economics, so the following is just conjecture, but: I think one reason for this state of affairs might be the reduced pace of technological innovation. In the past, when an industry (such as horsemanship, agriculture, switchboard operation, etc.) was automated, the technological advancements that led to this automation also led to the creation of several new industries. To use an extreme example, the same technology that eliminated switchboard operators led to the massive paradigm shift that was the Information Age.

However, in the modern Western world, new industries are created a lot less frequently; and thus workers whose jobs got automated have nowhere to go but down. This could be due to a combination of factors:

1). Automation today is increasingly the result of incremental advances in the field, as opposed to paradigm-shifting discoveries. Thus, most of the new industries that could’ve been created, already have been.
2). Technological progress in general has slowed down significantly, because…
3). …All the easy stuff has already been discovered, and/or…
4). …A combination of the socio-political climate, as well as extremely aggressive copyright/patent law, is causing a chilling effect (at least, in the Western world).
5). Western countries are suffering from resource depletion; it’s harder to innovate on zero budget.

From meh:

Graphs comparing college to high school over time need to show percent of the population each group is over time. (i vaguely remember this coming up on the blog before)

This is definitely true. For example, suppose that in 1950, only the richest 10% of people went to college. But in 2050, all but the poorest 10% of people go to college. We might discover that we had gone from most uncolleged people having decent jobs to most uncolleged people having terrible jobs – not because the importance of college had changed, but only because the poorest 90% of people might usually have mostly decent jobs, and the poorest 10% of people usually have terrible jobs. When I was doing some of this research, I asked Economics Tumblr whether this was a big deal, and I was told that some people had done the relevant calculations and they had been found not to affect any of these conclusions very much.

Chris Williams on why people on disability might claim not to want jobs even if they do:

Part of this is also the way the social safety net is setup. I know a dude I went to high school with years ago. He’s bipolar and a schizophrenic (sp?). Unmedicated, he basically goes all Charlie Sheen crazy from time to time. It makes him unable to function in society.So he’s considered disabled. However, he responds very well to medication. Now that he’s declared disabled and gets medication and doctor visits/therapy for free through Medicaid, and is on meds, he’s turned into a completely normal guy. 95% normal anyway. It’s completely turned his life around. Now, he would be perfectly able to hold down a job, or go to school, or learn a trade. That’s the rub though. If he gets a job or goes to school it serves as evidence he’s not disabled and could get him kicked off of food stamps, public housing and medicaid. So it’s a safer deal for him to stay home and play xbox than to contribute to society. He’d rather be “normal” in the head and sitting around than being crazy – which are basically his choices. If our social safety net was better designed, we could get some of those people back in the workforce.

There’s some disagreement and further discussion in the responses to his comment.

From Wrong Species:

It’s bugging me that you’re comparing total number of manufacturing jobs with percent of men in the labor force. It should either be both percent or both total.

This is a really important point which I messed up in the original version of the article. I originally thought it wouldn’t matter that much (US population hasn’t grown that much over time, has it?) but when I finally found the percent manufacturing jobs graph, it looked totally different and changed all my conclusions. I briefly panicked, then realized that probably what was going on was women were entering the labor force, generally into non-manufacturing jobs, and so the percent of workers in manufacturing was gradually going down over time. I can’t find a graph that adjusts for that, so I’m just going to trust my existing number of jobs graph for now.

From the same comment, on Autor’s example about bank tellers:

[Autor wrote]: “Consider the surprising complementarities between information technology and employment in banking, specifically the experience with automated teller machines (ATMs) and bank tellers documented by Bessen (2015). ATMs were introduced in the 1970s, and their numbers in the US economy quadrupled from approximately 100,000 to 400,000 between 1995 and 2010. One might naturally assume that these machines had all but eliminated bank tellers in that interval. But US bank teller employment actually rose modestly from 500,000 to approximately 550,000 over the 30-year period from 1980 to 2010 (although given the growth in the labor force in this time interval, these numbers do imply that bank tellers declined as a share of overall US employment).”

I find it odd how people just gloss over that [statement in parentheses]. The right story is the simple one, where ATMs reduced employment among tellers. Rise through population growth doesn’t count.

DocKaon agrees:

The Bessen (2015) ATM study is a great example of the conclusion not at all matching what the actual data says. Go look at the plots in that paper. What I see is that 10 years after ATMs are introduced employment of tellers plateaus and stays there with very little increase until the present. Virtually all the job growth in the sector occurs within the first 10 years after ATMs are introduced. Eyeballing it, from 1970-1980 tellers increase by ~5% a year and 1980-2010 by 0.6% a year. In other words, it takes approximately 10 years for the ATMs to become widespread and impact tellers jobs.

From sohois:

I believe it was Gwern who made the argument that even figures such as PAMLFPR were poor ways of trying to understand total employment, since such categorization is very much an invention of the modern era.

As I understood their argument, even 100 years ago ideas such as retirement and compulsory education simply didn’t exist (note: am not historian, I don’t know when exactly compulsory schooling or retirement would have become widespread); anyone who wasn’t very wealthy would start working as soon as they were physically able, and continue until they were either dead or physically unable, more likely the former given health outcomes in those times. Thus, technological unemployment did occur following the industrial revolution, because it allowed for a huge number of former workers to stop working. However, economists did not recognize this as a decline in employment since new categories of education and retirement were introduced to absorb them.

Part of the reason the statistic only measures prime age people (between 25 and 55) is that they’re at an age where they’re probably not in school or retired. I don’t know if the decrease of working years through the lifespan can fairly be called “technological unemployment” any more than the entrance of women into the workforce can be called “technological superemployment”. They’re just supply-side trends.

From Grey Enlightenment:

Regarding the horse example, the US horse population is 9 million. The demand for horses never went away despite automation and has remained steady. If one tried to extrapolate the early 20th century horse population trend to the future, there should presently be no horses alive.

Wikipedia says there were 20 million horses in the US in 1915, falling to a low of 4.5 million in 1959, and increasing to 9 million now. So the overall story of technological unenhorsement survives this objection.

Ricraz on whether perfect cheap androids would really make human workers obsolete:

Significant parts of many jobs are driven by social interactions and status considerations. The job of doorman at fancy hotels may be both the most easily automated job in existence, and also the last one to actually be automated. In this particular scenario, it depends on how people relate to androids. If society has the general idea that interacting with androids is low-status and not as meaningful as human interactions, then there would be an explosion in customer-facing jobs, as it becomes the easiest way to differentiate your product. Also, everything produced by androids would be so cheap that people wouldn’t need to work very long hours in those jobs to earn a living.

In other words, whether or not humans are practically useful, they’ll always be useful for aesthetic and signaling purposes. This provides the missing piece of the technological unenhorsement story; machinery made horses mostly useless, but aesthestic and signaling purposes were enough to maintain them at 25% to 50% of their maximum population.

I find this worrying for the same reason I find the lack of technological unemployment worrying; it means there might never come a time when we’re forced to really confront our values and decide whether we want to be properly post-scarcity. Even in the world with perfect android laborers, instead of letting the androids labor and letting humans live in leisure and share part of the pie, we’ll have the opportunity to sleepwalk into letting a few android-owners get super rich and giving everyone else jobs as hotel doormen. What do you mean it’s time for a universal basic income? You should be grateful for the hotel doorman job you have!

AnteriorMotive with one last unenhorsement related point:

I think the horse example is deceptive: the bottleneck for horses is human labour. Horse breeders, handlers, etc, found better uses for their labour and transitioned to other sectors of the economy. Put another way, horses were priced out because they need to hire humans to be able to do anything, and humans’ opportunity cost got so high they could no longer afford to outbid it.

You can tweak the metaphor to make the intended comparison more applicable, but it rapidly starts losing its rhetorical power. I recommend the discussion in the comments of: http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/02/06/notes-from-the-asilomar-conference-on-beneficial-ai/

“This wasn’t to say that they aren’t an argument for human obsolescence, just that when you exchange the horse analogy for the structurally identical ‘cassette tape’ or ‘slide-rule’ anology, suddenly it’s lost its rhetorical punch. As I see it, this suggests a misleading analogy, hinging on the listener inappropriately anthropomorphizing horses.”

Good point. This is why I previously got accused of “thinking horses are LITERALLY humans”. I apologize for the error. But I’m not going to back down on them basically just being elongated cows.

vV_Vv asks if the existence of a middle class is just a weird historical blip:

For most of recorded history, almost every human was a subsistence farmer, likely under-using their cognitive abilities, yet no middle-paying jobs materialized to use their full potential. Then, during the first century or so of the industrial revolution, most people in industrialized countries were assembly line workers, jobs even less cognitively demanding than subsistence farming, and still no middle-paying jobs appeared until most of that low-skilled factory work could be automated. There is nothing in standard economic theory that predicts that jobs that allow average people to use their full cognitive ability should exist and pay middle-class wages. In fact, there is nothing that predicts that a middle-class should exist.

Related: Matthias quoting Goldin & Katz:

U.S. educational and occupational wage differentials were exceptionally high at the dawn of the twentieth century and then decreased in several stages over the next eight decades. But starting in the early 1980s the labor market premium to skill rose sharply and by 2005 the college wage premium was back at its 1915 level. The twentieth century contains two inequality tales: one declining and one rising. We use a supply-demand-institutions framework to understand the factors that produced these changes from 1890 to 2005. We find that strong secular growth in the relative demand for more educated workers combined with fluctuations in the growth of relative skill supplies go far to explain the long-run evolution of U.S. educational wage differentials. An increase in the rate of growth of the relative supply of skills associated with the high school movement starting around 1910 played a key role in narrowing educational wage differentials from 1915 to 1980. The slowdown in the growth of the relative supply of college workers starting around 1980 was a major reason for the surge in the college wage premium from 1980 to 2005. Institutional factors were important at various junctures, especially during the 1940s and the late 1970s.

From Yosarian2:

Looking at your numbers we may have 2 different things happening here. Maybe from 1960-2000, the decrease in male employment was caused by the increase in female employment; and from 2000-today, female employment has been more flat, and the decrease in male employment has been caused by automation? Does that correlate better to the numbers?

A similar point from Proyas:

Also, it might be the case that the entry of women into the workforce starting 50 years ago permanently depressed wages and drove down the labor force participation rate. Is there an economic theory stating that the number of jobs must keep growing and their wages must also grow or stay the same, regardless of how many new workers are added to the system?…Picking a random example, if the number of people with J.D.’s in America doubles because women are no longer barred from entry, is there any reason to assume that the economy will automatically expand to absorb them all, with the number of attorney jobs doubling and salaries staying the same? “Is there an economic theory” that says such?

Alef is more (less?) subtle:

So in 1950 we introduced (or rather, used far more widely than just its former niches) a new technology that was an essentially perfect substitute for manpower. To pretty much exactly the extent it became increasingly deployed, the ‘workforce’ declined (an almost perfect offset for 25 years, a bit looser thereafter). In the past, new technologies have (after some painful adjustment time) lead to new jobs, new opportunities, and a recovery or gain in ’employment’; but in this case we’ve waited a couple of generations and still seen absolutely nothing in the way of recovering from this offset. Is this experience not relevant, as robots and AI will very shortly do this again? For a while, they won’t be remotely as capable or flexible substitutes for manpower as in the former case; but they will also be cheaper.

I’m sure using women as a metaphor for robots will greatly increase this blog’s popularity among the feminists. But this is a good point – why shouldn’t wages have crashed when the labor supply doubles?

The only good paper I can find on this claims it didn’t happen. I agree that’s surprising and that it needs more thought.

Probably the same arguments about how immigrants (and new graduates) entering the workforce don’t necessarily drive down wages should apply here also. The only caveat is that women are already around and consuming, so they might not create as many new jobs by entering the workforce as (say) a new immigrant arriving in the country. But there’s also the effect where somebody has to do whatever they were doing before (housework? child-rearing?) so that could possibly balance it out.

There’s little room for women entering the workforce to contribute to unemployment, since Part I of the original post explained that there is not really an unexplained unemployment increase. I wish I had a better answer to the wage stagnation question, and will be eternally grateful to anyone who can direct me to more literature or analyses on this.

From VolumeWarrior:

Surprised to see no mention of videogames. The career prospects of young men are humiliating or tediously circuitous to puruse. So they just stay at home and play Xbox. See http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2016/09/labor-force-participation-video-games.html

Again, I want to emphasize that this is solving a non-problem. There is no unexplained jump in unemployment or nonparticipation. You can all stop trying to come up with explanations for it.

From Swami:

The data clearly shows (I can link if desired) that the larger trend happening over past thirty years is the middle class is shrinking primarily by moving into higher tiers or retiring, the lower class has grown slightly, but not if you exclude thirty to forty million immigrants. And here much of the statistical increase has been caused by lower numbers of married families (and thus fewer jumps to middle income due to failure to get hitched).

Versus sdenton4:

Given the categorization of jobs by type, there’s presumably a hell of a lot more low paying jobs than high paying jobs. So a smaller percentage increase in low paying jobs could presumably account for a lot more workers than the larger percentage increase in high paying jobs.

From Pinyaka:

I don’t necessarily think that most people think that technological unemployment will hit the least skilled first. It should hit the jobs where it’s most profitable first. How cheap would a robotic server in a restaurant have to be to actually get a return on investment? Replacing a unionized assembly line worker makes you money a lot faster even if it’s more expensive. As we get better at replacing middle cost jobs, the cost of automation should go down and that should allow us to replace the unskilled.

From Disillusioned9:

I have two comments: first, the automation of manufacturing may now have meaningfully affected the PAMLFPR nationwide, but surely the localized effects may tell a different story? The economies of manufacturing heavy States like Ohio are in crisis, which would strongly suggest that either PALFPR or underemployment would go up in these areas. Increases in non-manufacturing jobs elsewhere in the nation could smooth those numbers in the US and hide regional inequities.

Yeah, the lack of obvious jumps in unemployment and PAMLFNP have to be squared with the universal common-sense perception that parts of the Rust Belt are an apocalyptic mess right now. The idea that these areas are getting anomalously worse while others (Big cities? The coasts? Silicon Valley?) are getting anomalously better might be one explanation for how the statistics could all even out.

From resalisbury:

An argument that often gets overlooked is that housing costs in high productivity cities are crowding out potential increases in employment and productivity.

What if we are as good as ever at fundamental technological aspect of productivity innovations but have gotten worse at moving people to places where those innovations are occurring?

Interstate labor mobility rates are at an all time low since the 1960s and housing costs in our most productive cities are at an all time high.

Hsieh and Moretti (2017) argue in “Housing Constrains and Spatial Misallocation” that increases in housing costs due primarily to zoning have reduced aggregate GDP growth by 50% since 1960. That is huge. Even if they are off by an order of magnitude, it could still help explain several pp of the reduction in prime age workforce. Additional workers have to come from somewhere…


In San Francisco the median housing price is over $1 million. Not everyone needs to move here and be a programmer there’s lots of other work to be done. Unfortunately, most people can’t afford to live in the city so they sleep in cars or commute in 2 hours just to work. Imagine how many more people would work if they could just live here.

The Economist argued that if not for housing costs the population of the Bay Area would be around 30 million (can’t find the link) instead of ~7 million. That’s just one region where the employment growth would impact things on a national scale.

Imagine what would have happened to Detroit if in the early years housing prices spike to over $1 million. Or if in the 1860s when millions were migrating to the United States they arrived to discover that the median housing cost $1 million. They would write home and tell friends not to come.

Housing costs in the last few decades have finally reached a point where they have become a constraint on growth that was not true during previous periods of economic expansion in the US.

What to do about housing costs? Obama’s outgoing team of economic advisors published a paper with policy recommendations which can be see here. Basically if calls for increased density and by right zoning (ie you can’t put someone’s bulding permit through 3 years of discretionary review and comment).


An unexpected place for the housing crisis to show up. At what point do I have to end all these posts with “ceterum autem censeo domuum numerum augmentum esse”?

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1 day ago
Lots here, worth a read.
1 day ago
This is a really interesting post (combined with the original). Sometimes SSC posts seem to be a very smart person searching for a way to get to a comfortable result. But this one seems much more like a true exploration of unknown terrain. The one perspective that I think everybody lacks is to think of technological unemployment from a perspective of deep continuity with the past. We think of our own time as relatively stable or possibly on the threshold of a new era of automation. But we don't think through the implications that we are actually two hundred years into the era of automation. The period of stability before the robots came and took all our jobs was in the 1700s. The past 200 years have seen the rise of technological unemployment and it looks very different than unemployment looked before then. In the 1700s there was persistent (especially rural) unemployment. But it was a constant thing. When populations rose, so did the number of unlanded vagrants and day laborers. These people would do odd jobs as they could and eke out a meager existence supplemented by occasional alms. But this was purely a class thing. If you were born into this life at the bottom, there you remained. The only changes came when there was a particularly good harvest or a famine. Or perhaps seasonal variation. It was in the 1800s up to our present time that technological unemployment happened. Vast numbers of people were either put to work or unemployed at the same time. And these waves of hiring and firing became more and more correlated until we have the modern business cycle. And this is what technological unemployment looks like. It is the mirror image of technological employment. If we look at this history and place ourselves in it, then that gives us a hint of what to look for in technological unemployment for the future. If automation grows more intense, then we should expect wider swings in the business cycle with more people coming into the labor force during the good times and more being ejected in the bad times. If automation slows down, then the business cycle will slow down and there will be more permanent unemployment and less unemployment variation in good times or bad.
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It’s Not Your Imagination: The MTA Runs Less Subway Service Than It Did 10 Years Ago

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Subway service today is atrocious, that much is clear. During rush hours, crowding and delays have reached crisis proportions, and off-peak, the wait for a train can seem interminable.

There are a number of culprits, including the failure to adequately maintain and upgrade track and signals, and the profusion of unnecessary timers slowing down trains. But one simple factor doesn’t get mentioned enough: During off-peak hours, the MTA doesn’t run as many trains as it used to.

The service reductions mainly stem from the financial crisis of 2008, when MTA revenues nosedived. While Albany enacted an MTA funding package in 2009 to prevent a total collapse of service, the agency balanced its budget with a round of deep service cuts in 2010.

For subways, the cuts mainly affected off-peak service. It’s a logical way to allocate resources when budgets are tight, but those times are also when subway ridership has recently seen significant growth. Off-peak service still hasn’t been restored to its former levels, so more people are riding the subway at times when the MTA is running less service than it provided 10 years ago.

These service cuts are especially painful for people who work outside conventional office hours, including New Yorkers doing shifts on nights and weekends. Let’s look at a few examples to see how these systemwide service cuts have contributed to the diminished utility of the system.

Back in 2008, the midday A train came as frequently as every six minutes during on weekdays. Similarly, on Saturdays, going northbound, service every eight minutes began at 6:30 a.m. and lasted until about 5:30 p.m. That’s 11 hours of frequent, useful A service. On Sundays, too, the MTA delivered, with trains running every eight minutes in the late afternoons, getting people home promptly before the week began again.

Today, during weekday midday hours, the A runs a measly seven or so trains per hour — once every nine minutes. On Saturdays, the window of eight-minute headways lasts about nine hours, not 11. And on Sundays, service every 10 minutes is as good as it gets. Keep in mind that the A splits in two at Rockaway Boulevard, so what may be barely-adequate on the main line equates to 20-minute headways on the branches to Lefferts Boulevard and the Rockaways.

On the R, weekend trains ran every eight minutes for 10 hours on Saturday, and six of Sunday in 2008. But today, the line runs no more than every 10 minutes on the weekends.

Most disturbing is the J. The 2008 version of J train service often arrived every eight minutes during off-peak hours. Today, the only time the J arrives more frequently than once every 10 minutes is during the weekday rush.

This is just a sample of the service reductions. While the MTA has restored some of the service cut in 2010, especially rush-hour service, off-peak service on most if not all subway lines remains below the level of 10 years ago. It has become the new normal.

More recently, other service reductions have been forced by weekend work. The MTA’s flagging rules (which govern train operation while workers are on the tracks) mandate that all operators begin slowing to 10 mph as much as a quarter mile before a work zone. This reduces track capacity significantly, and if the MTA predicts that a line will be facing these changes more regularly — for example, on Queens Boulevard, where work upgrading the signal system is underway — the agency may preemptively cut service.

These cuts could be mitigated if the MTA was open to adjusting service patterns during longer-term projects. But instead of embracing flexibility, the agency is content with a status quo in which construction work detracts from service quality more than it has to.

In most cases, bringing scheduled service back to the levels of 2008 doesn’t even raise questions of how to juggle maintenance needs and subway frequency. It’s just a matter of allocating resources.

Yet when restoring cut services is brought up, the MTA often cites a lack of demand to justify doing nothing. This ignores perhaps the most basic truth of transit — that people do not flock to infrequent services. It also ignores history: Until recently, the MTA did run off-peak trains more frequently. If that was good for New York in 2008, why isn’t it good for New York in 2018, when more people ride off-peak?

Some of the problems plaguing New York’s transit system are entrenched and complex and will take some time to fix. Restoring off-peak service to 2008 levels isn’t one of those problems. Reversing these service cuts wherever possible would do wonders for system utility and perception. This is New York, where even seconds count.

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2 days ago
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Free DLC The Valley Is Now Available!

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Hi all!

The Valley, a free DLC for Spintires: MudRunner is out now!

Included in this update is:
  • A new map: The Valley
  • Three vehicles: The E-7429, the C-6317 and the A-969
  • Ten new vehicle addons
    • C-6317 Spare wheel
    • A-969 Spare wheel
    • A-969 Fuel canisters
    • A-969 Garage parts
    • A-969 Utility attachment
    • E-7429 Advanced trailer hitch
    • E-7429 Repair kit
    • E-7429 (compatible with E-7310 from base game)
    • Garage semi-trailer
    • Medium log trailer (compatible with some of base game trucks)
    • Medium log trailer's logs load
  • Various bug fixes

We are currently investigating reports of poor performance in this latest update. If you encounter performance issues with this update, please try the following:

1. Unsubscribe from all mods
2. Delete your profile found in C:\User\[user]\AppData\Roaming\Spintires MudRunner (This is cloud synced, so you won't lose your progress, but we recommend backing up this file just in case).
3. Re-install the game.

This should help with the issue while we work on a fix.

Change Log:
  • Letters are now properly automatically uppercased
  • Linebreaks were fixed
  • Minor improvements to autowinch point selection.
  • Minor improvements to the legacy camera mode
  • Minor improvements to sounds
  • Minor water shading and other texture improvements
  • Minor truck setup improvements
  • Lobby members will now select the trucks they want to use when entering a map
  • Steering Wheels Differential Lock in hardcore mode will now behave the same way as in casual mode.
  • Some vehicles are now able to toggle differential lock on and off
  • Soil has been made softer
  • The game will now detect available video memory and will downgrade textures if they don't fit.
  • Lobby hosts will now select up to eight mods for the game.
Enjoy, and we'll see you soon!
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3 days ago
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Trump wants bump stocks banned "very soon"

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At a Valor Awards Ceremony Tuesday, President Trump announced that he has ordered Attorney General Jeff Sessions to craft regulations banning “bump stocks” and other devices that speed up the rate of fire for semi-automatic firearms.

The president told Sessions he wants new federal guidelines finalized “very soon,” adding that “we can do more to protect our children. We must do more to protect our children." Trump said school safety is now a top priority of his administration.

"After the deadly shooting in Las Vegas, I directed the Attorney General to clarify whether bump stock devices like the one used in Las Vegas are illegal under current law. That process began in December, and just a few moments ago, I signed a memorandum directing the Attorney General to ban all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns. I expect that these critical regulations will be finalized... very soon."
President Trump

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders:

“He ordered the Department of Justice and the ATF to review the regulation of bump stocks... My understanding is that review has been completed and movement will take place on that shortly. But the president when it comes to that is committed to ensuring those devices...the president doesn't support the use of those accessories.”

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3 days ago
But remember gun control doesn't work and if they ban bump stocks how will you defend against the government?
3 days ago
We kind of all knew that Trump wasn't a solid vote on gun control in general, another reason that a lot of people were voting against him in the primary. And yes, the ban on bump stocks will probably not work, though they're not a particularly large problem, nor particularly effective to begin with. That includes against the government. They're pretty useless all around.
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#WakandaTheVote: how activists are using Black Panther screenings to register voters

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A nationwide voter registration campaign is turning the message of Black Panther into a political reality. 

Once it became clear Marvel’s Black Panther would be a huge draw to movie theaters, a trio of black women had an idea: If black communities would turn out in large numbers to see the film, why not seize the opportunity to get people registered to vote?

The result was the #WakandaTheVote campaign, an initiative that allows people to set up voter registration events at local theaters or register to vote via text message. The initiative is headed by Kayla Reed, Jessica Byrd, and Rukia Lumumba, who also created the Movement for Black Lives’ Electoral Justice Project. The EJP aims to “continue a long legacy of social movements fighting for the advancement of the rights of Black folks through electoral strategy.”

It turns out that using Black Panther’s record-setting opening is one way to accomplish those goals. “In watching Black Panther, what feels familiar about the real world that we’re in and Wakanda is that we need someone to defend our communities against attack,” Reed, a St. Louis-based organizer, told Vox on Tuesday. “We need to step into the idea that we can all be superheroes and we can all be change agents in our communities.”

 Image courtesy of the Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project
A promotional image for the #WakandaTheVote campaign.

#WakandaTheVote, much like the varying campaigns of the broader Movement for Black Lives, is a largely crowdsourced effort, relying on local communities to create and run their own registration events.

The campaign has already seen considerable support: some 20 registration events took place over the weekend in cities like Dallas, Durham, Miami, and Atlanta, and people have signed up to hold more than 100 registration events in at least 50 cities since the initiative launched, suggesting that the campaign could expand considerably in the next few weeks.

The campaign also enables people to register to vote using their phones by texting a prompt that then directs them to a registration website.

Reed says more than 1,000 people have registered to vote using this method so far. (Since the campaign relies on survey responses to determine how many people were registered at any given theater, it will take some time before an estimate of those numbers is available.)

#WakandaTheVote is part of a broader effort to change how black communities engage with politics

Reducing barriers to the political process is a core goal of the EJP. When the project began last year, Reed says the focus was not only on coordinating local and national election initiatives for the Movement for Black Lives’ member groups, but also on educating black communities about the impacts of political issues and how the electoral process can serve as a means of effecting change.

When the EJP started in October, it hosted community-based events and town halls that allowed it to interact directly with community members and understand how local communities view electoral politics. Those interactions had a direct influence on the #WakandaTheVote effort.

Communities of color are deeply concerned about political issues, especially under the Trump administration, Reed says, but black communities “haven’t been sold on the fact that voting changes the issues that their communities are facing.” She added that black communities are often persuaded to vote for politicians who later ignore their needs. She argues that the registration campaign is a way to encourage people to see those connections by giving community groups the tools to empower one another.

Reed says another important point of the EJP and the current voter registration effort is its timing. Rather than waiting for the early fall to start a voter registration campaign for the 2018 midterm contests in November, Reed explains that the registration campaign is designed to engage with voters much earlier in the process. Instead of simply adding names to the voter rolls, the campaign is more about encouraging black people to participate in elections than persuading them to support a particular candidate or party.

That’s how the project is attempting to set itself apart from candidate-driven efforts or groups like the Democratic National Committee, which has been criticized by black organizers and political strategists for assuming that black voters will support certain candidates and limiting black outreach efforts to late in the election cycle.

“Coming in late is exploitative because there’s an ask without any type of investment,” Reed says. “There’s no promise that policing is going to get better if we vote for the Democrat; there’s no promise that economic justice will be on the platform if we vote for the Democrat.” Instead, she says, it’s important for groups to build credibility in communities over time.

It’s a change that other black organizing groups have sought, working in recent elections in Virginia and Alabama to turn old models of engaging with black voters on their head by emphasizing the ballot as a way for black communities to show their power and encouraging long-term voter persuasion efforts.

The EJP says that the next few weeks of the #WakandaTheVote campaign are just the beginning; a similar registration campaign centered on Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time is currently in the works. The Electoral Justice Project is also looking to launch several new projects in upcoming months, including an initiative that will train black organizers to work on electoral issues, and an information project that will serve as a resource for grassroots black political efforts moving forward.

The organizers say the current voter registration effort crystallizes what the Black Panther film represents: the strength of black communities and the political and cultural power of art. “Black art has always been political,” Reed says. “I’m just really grateful that people saw what #WakandaTheVote could mean to the ability for black people to self-determine [our futures] and really govern ourselves and our communities.”

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3 days ago
What a great idea!
2 days ago
It's early in the year but I'm not sure how this hashtag can be beaten
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Amazon Studios to Adapt Consider Phlebas, First Novel of the Culture Series

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Dennis Kelly set to write the series, Plan B to produce

The Culture, a fictional interstellar utopian society from author Iain M. Banks is being adapted for television for the first time, to come to life exclusively on Prime Video

SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Feb. 21, 2018-- (NASDAQ: AMZN)—Amazon Studios today announced it has acquired the global television rights to the Culture’s first novel Consider Phlebas. The famed space opera by Scottish writer Iain M. Banks features Banks’ fictional interstellar utopian society, the Culture. The series will be adapted by Dennis Kelly (Utopia, Matilda) with Plan B Entertainment (World War Z, 12 Years a Slave, The Big Short, Moonlight, Feud) slated to produce and the Estate of Iain Banks attached as Executive Producer.

This press release features multimedia. View the full release here: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180221005519/en/

Iain M. Banks(Photo: Business Wire)

Iain M. Banks(Photo: Business Wire)

A kinetic, action-packed adventure on a huge canvas, Consider Phlebas draws upon the extraordinary world and mythology Banks created in the Culture, in which a highly advanced and progressive society ends up at war with the Idirans, a deeply religious, warlike race intent on dominating the entire galaxy.

The story centers on Horza, a rogue agent tasked by the Idirans with the impossible mission of recovering a missing Culture ‘Mind,’ an artificial intelligence many thousands of times smarter than any human—something that could hold the key to wiping out the Culture altogether. What unfolds, with Banks’ trademark irreverent humor, ultimately asks the poignant question of how we can use technology to preserve our humanity, not surrender it.

“The story of the Culture is so rich and captivating that for years Hollywood has been trying to bring this utopian society to life on the screen,” said Sharon Tal Yguado, Head of Scripted Series at Amazon Studios. “We are honored that we have been chosen, along with Dennis Kelly and Plan B Entertainment, to make Consider Phlebas into a television series we think will be loved by fans for years to come.”

“Iain Banks has long been a hero of mine, and his innate warmth, humor and humanism shines through these novels,” said Dennis Kelly. “Far from being the dystopian nightmares that we are used to, Banks creates a kind of flawed paradise, a society truly worth fighting for—rather than a warning from the future, his books are a beckoning.”

“We revere the work of Iain Banks and continue to be moved by his inimitable spirit and his commitment to imagining a better future even in the darkest of times,” said Plan B. “Consider Phlebas, simultaneously explores the deepest questions concerning humanity and our future. We are so grateful to the Estate of Iain Banks for the opportunity to bring his work to life, and to Amazon for the scope of their ambition to building Iain’s prescient world.”

Prime Originals are available for Prime members to stream and enjoy using the Prime Video app for TVs, connected devices including Amazon Fire TV, and mobile devices, or online with other Prime Originals online at Amazon.com/originals, at no additional cost to their membership. Eligible customers who are not already Prime members can sign up for a free trial at www.amazon.com/prime. For a list of all Prime Video compatible devices, visit www.amazon.com/howtostream. Content is available through the Prime Video app and PrimeVideo.com in more than 200 countries and territories.

Customers who are not already Prime members can sign up for a free trial at www.amazon.com/prime. For a list of all Amazon Video compatible devices, visit www.amazon.com/howtostream.

About Prime Video

Prime Video is a premium on-demand entertainment service that offers customers the greatest choice in what to watch, and how to watch it. Prime Video is the only service that provides all of the following:

  • Prime Video: Thousands of movies and TV shows, including popular licensed and self-published content plus critically-acclaimed and award-winning Prime Originals like The Grand Tour, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Sneaky Pete, Amazon Original Movies such as Academy Award-winning Manchester by the Sea and The Salesman, and Academy Award-nominated The Big Sick and kids series, Tumble Leaf, available for unlimited streaming as part of an Amazon Prime membership. Prime Video is also now available to customers in more than 200 countries and territories around the globe at www.primevideo.com.
  • Live Sports: Sporting events, including AVP volleyball and ATP tennis, are available to watch live on Prime Video in more than 200 countries and territories around the globe.
  • Amazon Channels: Over 140 channel subscriptions that Prime members can add to their membership, including HBO, SHOWTIME, STARZ, Cinemax, PBS KIDS, Acorn TV and more. To view the full list of channels available, visit www.amazon.com/channels
  • Rent or Own: Hundreds of thousands of titles, including new-release movies and current TV shows available for on-demand rental or purchase for all Amazon customers
  • Instant Access: Instantly watch anytime, anywhere through the Amazon Video app on TVs, mobile devices, Amazon Fire TV, Fire TV Stick, and Fire tablets, or online. For a list of all compatible devices visit www.amazon.com/howtostream
  • Premium Features: Top features like 4K Ultra HD, High Dynamic Range (HDR), X-Ray and mobile downloads for offline viewing of select content

In addition to Prime Video, the Prime membership includes unlimited fast free shipping options across all categories available on Amazon, more than two million songs and thousands of playlists and stations with Prime Music, secure photo storage with Prime Photos, unlimited reading with Prime Reading, unlimited access to a digital audiobook catalogue with Audible Channels for Prime, a rotating selection of free digital games and in-game loot with Twitch Prime, early access to select Lightning Deals, exclusive access and discounts to select items, and more. To sign-up for Prime or to find out more visit: www.amazon.com/prime.

About Amazon

Amazon is guided by four principles: customer obsession rather than competitor focus, passion for invention, commitment to operational excellence, and long-term thinking. Customer reviews, 1-Click shopping, personalized recommendations, Prime, Fulfillment by Amazon, AWS, Kindle Direct Publishing, Kindle, Fire tablets, Fire TV, Amazon Echo, and Alexa are some of the products and services pioneered by Amazon. For more information, visit www.amazon.com/about and follow @AmazonNews.

Source: Amazon.com, Inc.

Amazon.com, Inc.
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3 days ago
Ugh. This is going to be awful.
3 days ago
Hope for the best, I guess.
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