Monthly Archives: April 2019

The Rockets are waging war against NBA officials. Will it really help them beat the Warriors?

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Houston’s investigation pointed blame at veteran NBA officials. But the league knew about this months ago, so now what?

The Rockets somehow managed to pull off their own investigation into the officiating of their 2018 Western Conference Finals matchup against the Golden State Warriors, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Rachel Nichols. What did they find in said investigation? According to Houston’s research — dissecting a full-game version of the NBA’s Last Two Minutes report that they received from the league — there were 81 potential missed calls and non-calls in Game 7 alone.

Houston is trying to make the case that officiating has benefitted the Golden State Warriors in their battles over the past two seasons. Those benefits, the Rockets claim, stole potential points away from their team, points that could have been the difference between losing Game 7 and going to the NBA Finals.

The NBA, despite providing the play-by-play officiating tape for the Rockets to analyze, does not agree with Houston’s math: “As we told the Rockets, we do not agree with their methodology,” Mike Bass, an NBA spokesman, told ESPN on Monday.

The league’s answer makes sense. Houston is trying to claim that calls, non-calls and violations in that fateful Game 7 cost them 18.6 points in a game decided by nine. They’re trying to claim non-calls robbed them of a trip to the NBA Finals. Not an injury to Chris Paul. Not shooting 27 consecutive three-pointers and missing every single one of them. Fouls.

Analytics run supreme when it comes to the Moreyball Rockets. It’s the very fiber of this franchise, from how they identify personnel for the roster to their approach in assessing potential point values to every call or non-call in that playoff series.

But the Rockets may have grossly overestimated their own ability to bring about a swift change. The NBA was made aware of these claims months ago, yet there were eight “landing zone” non-calls on James Harden jump shots in Game 1 on Sunday. Their lobbying may have actually had the opposite effect.

What’s worse is that as a part of Houston’s investigation, the Rockets singled out veteran officials as ones holding back other referees because they are “resisting reform.” It appears the Rockets want the NBA to bend to its will. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. And what comes next could be ugly.

Houston literally just called out veteran NBA officials

The three-man officiating crew for Game 1 of Rockets-Warriors featured Zach Zarba, Josh Tiven, and Courtney Kirkland, a seasoned crew with 44 years of experience combined between them. Houston, in its discussions with the NBA, recommended that playoff officials be selected by call accuracy, not by officiating experience.

The Rockets appear to be waging war against the very entity who they claim has robbed them of a shot at an NBA Finals appearance. This story leaked not during the offseason, but in the middle of a series where those very officials be in play.

This is a move that has yielded mixed reactions. Rockets fans believe (and are fed up that) their team has been wronged in their matchups against the Warriors. Steve Kerr believes putting the emphasis on officiating takes away from the beautiful game played between two championship-caliber teams.

But the bottom line is Houston is playing a dangerous game calling out the referees who will now be officiating the remainder of this series with that thought in the back of their mind. If they wanted the benefit of the whistle before, how are they supposed to expect it now?

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Giants GM Dave Gettleman should stop talking

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Don’t let the Daniel Jones pick distract you from the other bad choices the Giants have made.

On April 25, New York Giants general manager David Gettleman made the surprising decision to make the FBS’ 72nd-rated quarterback the sixth-overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft. That selection has dominated draft talk in the days since — and that might be a good thing for Gettleman, given the rest of his confusing moves this offseason.

Selecting the Duke passer has focused an already powerful lens on the Giants’ front office as Gettleman has tried to spin his way through the selection of a quarterback who advanced stats suggest may not have been a top-20 draft-eligible player at his position. But that increased scrutiny has also diverted attention from the other head-scratching moves that may doom New York into rebuilding purgatory. As such, the team’s been happy to harp on Jones; the front office hasn’t had one single strategy for deflecting criticism for the selection — it’s had all of them.

The Giants have thrown everything they can think of to defend their top pick, which has provided an all-too-public reveal his former Panthers players were right and Gettleman might just be in over his head. None of these arguments have been particularly compelling and occasionally contradict each other.

In the end, the people Gettleman has been able to sway to his side are:

a) a possibly apocryphal cashier at a bagel place
b) end of list.

The good news is, hey, at least we’re not talking about everything else New York’s screwed up recently, right?

Gettleman justifications for the Jones pick are uneven, lazy, and sometimes weird

When the scrutiny poured in from all angles — even George R.R. Martin got into the action — the general manager just kept digging, hoping the circumference of his problem was small enough to break through to the other side. He won’t, because his reasons for selecting Jones in a year where he could have drafted Dwayne Haskins in the first round, waited for Drew Lock in the second, or traded a Day 2 pick to free Josh Rosen from Arizona have been equal parts disastrous and nonsensical.

Gettleman INSISTS two teams would’ve drafted Jones, despite evidence to the contrary

When critics suggested Jones would have been available with the club’s second selection of the first round, No. 17 overall, Gettleman fired back with the unprovable “fact” that two other teams would have snapped up Jones before his pick, which both ESPN and NBC’s Peter King refuted.

Those two teams, ostensibly Washington and Denver, both benefitted immensely from the Giants’ big swing at No. 6. New York’s pass on Haskins helped the Ohio State QB slide to Washington nine spots later. The Broncos, meanwhile, took Drew Lock — a quarterback most rankings slotted higher than Jones — all the way down at No. 42. Both teams earned strong grades for their patience (and, of course, the assist from Gettleman that helped them get there).

Gettleman thinks Eli Manning is still his franchise QB

When the media questioned Jones’ lackluster numbers in college and his pro readiness, Gettleman suggested he could take on a developmental role behind Manning for the next two or three years. When the next logical question became “why would you draft a quarterback who won’t start until 2022 with the sixth-overall pick,” the whole exercise became an ouroboros of shame.

Relying on Manning at this point, especially for three more seasons, is quite a leap. While the veteran’s numbers bounced back toward his early career peak in his first year with head coach Pat Shurmur, he’s also 38 years old and will now be throwing to a lineup without Odell Beckham in it.

Gettleman won’t shut up about how much he loves Jones

Gettleman loves Jones. It’s a word he uses quite often, typically referring to the three-drive span at the Senior Bowl that, apparently, blew away the competition for the No. 6 pick, including a badly needed pass rusher in Josh Allen and a higher-rated quarterback in Haskins.

But that wasn’t the only time he compared his infatuation with the Duke passer to the emotion that can break wars and launch ships:

Geez, guy.

But if there’s one narrative Gettleman needs to drop more than any other, it’s the one he’s been pushing since draft night: that Jones was great in an exhibition game, ergo he will be great in the NFL.

The Senior Bowl game itself isn’t really football, and the list of Senior Bowl MVPs is … eeehhhhhhh

Gettleman has said Jones’ fate as New York’s hyper-scrutinized top pick of 2019 was sealed over the course of 15 minutes at an exhibition game.

That is an acceptable way for your uncle to declare Jones “his guy” from the couch after Sunday dinner. For an NFL GM to say that is completely bonkers. Here’s why.

The January exhibition is a useful tool for scouts and executives to watch some of college football’s top players face off against each other. A full week of practices under the guidance of former NFL coaches allow prospects to acquit themselves against other elite athletes and state their case for a spot in the early rounds of the draft.

And then the actual game starts, and all that goes out the window.

The actual Senior Bowl is played under a set of rules aimed at reducing injury and allowing offensive players to shine. Or, as Charles McDonald put it, the game itself is fake football.

These rules are extremely conducive to strong passing performances, as indicated by the list of quarterbacks who earned Senior Bowl MVP honors the past two decades.

That’s not an especially encouraging list if you’re a Giants fan. The good (?) news is your team has drafted 40 percent of those guys. The bad news is they traded away the only respectable selection in that bunch (Rivers, though New York made out pretty well in that deal by getting a two-time Super Bowl champion as his replacement).

The average QB rating of the nine MVPs before Jones is 68 — 10 full points lower than Brock Osweiler’s career mark, though Lauletta’s putrid limited-time debut in 2018 (0-5, one interception) drags that number down some. Only three reliable starters have won Senior Bowl MVP this millennium — Rivers, Dak Prescott, and Chad Pennington.

If you dig back further, you get other misses like Cade McNown, Dameyune Craig, Bobby Hoying, and Stan White. This is all to say the Senior Bowl is no indicator of real success, even if you win MVP honors in the process.

And yet, Gettleman only needed three series of Jones’ action to make his draft decision. The Giants proudly tweeted out highlights of their new quarterback’s MVP performance moments after selecting him.

This is probably not something to which the Giants should be admitting so freely. But, then again, it’s not like Jones has a whole bunch of NCAA accomplishments they can point to either.

Jones is only part of Gettleman’s massive rebuilding problem in New York

The upside was this was a valuable smokescreen to distract from the rest of Gettleman’s, uh, questionable decisions. He kicked off the 2019 offseason by allowing safety Landon Collins to leave in free agency with nothing in return but a likely third-round compensatory selection. He doubled-down on that move by shipping Odell Beckham Jr. to the Browns in exchange for a package headlined by their first-round pick and talented but inconsistent safety Jabrill Peppers.

It was a similar tact to the one he took as Carolina’s GM, where he hemorrhaged talent with no clear path back to contention until the Panthers fired him.

Then came Jones and, 11 picks later, Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence. He’ll fill the hole opened when Damon Harrison was traded to the Lions for a fifth-round pick.

So, in effect, the Giants turned Beckham, Collins, and Harrison — three All-Pro players in New York — into Lawrence, Peppers, and a tiny piece of first-round pick Deandre Baker since that 142nd pick was part of the package that gave the club its third Day 1 selection. That’s a lot of proven talent going out for some good, but not must-have prospects. Dive in to any of the many post-draft grades floating around, and it’s hard to find anyone optimistic about New York’s haul.

If you’re a Giants fan and were able to read that without getting a spontaneous rage nosebleed, I salute you. But we’re not really talking about those moves right now because, again, the Jones pick was a nightmare. Efficient!

Jones was merely the vinaigrette on top of the shit salad that’s been the Gettleman era in New York. The ousted Panthers general manager has been bold in his moves to make the Giants his own team, and while a rebuild was in store no matter what in northern New Jersey, the path the club has chosen leaves plenty of questions about the future.

Gettleman has shucked aside value in order to chase youth and potential, and it’s left a once-formidable roster filled with unproven players and a bevy of hollow excuses to justify what seem like bizarre decisions.

Gettleman seems to understand the only argument that counts is how his team performs on the field in 2019 and beyond. “In three years,” he told Peter King, “we’ll find out how crazy I am.” Based on his year-plus tenure to date, you’ll have to ask him this question somewhere other than New York.

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Kawhi Leonard has no narrative, except as a dynasty ruiner

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He did it once before. An untimely ankle injury prevented him from doing it again. Now, he has a third crack at it.

Before the NBA playoffs began, I listed Kawhi Leonard as the most interesting player among those on the 16 rosters participating. Through one series and one game of the Raptors star’s postseason, Leonard has held up his end of the bargain. He anchored a throttling of the Magic in the first round (after a brief but classic Toronto hiccup in Game 1). In the series premiere against the star-laden Sixers on Saturday, Leonard had maybe the best game of his life. This is possible even though we’re talking about the 2014 Finals MVP.

What strikes me as most interesting about Leonard’s story is it really lacks a story. There’s no narrative here now that he’s spurned the Spurs and remains uncommitted to the Raptors. Leonard is adrift in a sea of his own excellence, floating in and out of championship-level basketball without apparent destiny or purpose at play.

We thought Leonard was wrapped in a narrative back when he won the 2014 Finals MVP: he would be the second coming of Tim Duncan. A hard-working, lead-by-example, elite defender who can drop 30 efficiently too — someone who’d take every snap from Gregg Popovich without cracking, someone reliable and egoless. That didn’t exactly pan out. Leonard’s body proved unreliable in the end, and his ego (or his uncle, depending on who you read) proved paramount, as he basically sat out last season and asked for a trade.

So much for being the next Duncan.

The Spurs never get emotional and shipped Leonard to the Raptors. The deal frayed Toronto’s feelings, or at least Kyle Lowry’s. Leonard healed the wound. The Raptors are as good as ever, which is saying something given where Toronto has been the last couple of years. Yet Leonard hasn’t so much has hinted he’ll stick around, no matter how perfect the supporting cast or how committed Toronto is to providing whatever he needs, whether rest or power or anything.

But now the bud of blossoming narrative is poking through Ontario’s frost. It’s that Leonard is a disruptor of this NBA generation’s dynasties.

Excised from the narrative of the Spurs’ next perfect-for-Pop quiet giant, Leonard’s role in beating the Heat in 2014 takes on this tone. It wasn’t so much a continuation of San Antonio preeminence, but a monkey wrench named Kawhi thrown into Miami’s gears on the eve of three-peat.

After that title, the Heat broke up and the Warriors rose to replace them. By 2017, with Duncan retired and Leonard on his second contract, the Spurs were poised to invite themselves to the standing tea party the Warriors and LeBron James’ Cavaliers had organized. San Antonio had won 67 games and led Golden State by 20 in the first game of their highly anticipated West finals match-up. Then, Leonard landed on Zaza Pachulia’s foot and only played nine total games for the Spurs until he was traded. We don’t know whether Leonard could have truly disrupted the Warriors’ dynasty then, or whether that Game 1 was a fluke. But it didn’t feel like a fluke at the time.

Now we’re here. There’s a long way before a Raptors vs. Warriors Finals — for both teams. Toronto will have its hands full with the Sixers before all is said and done, no matter how omnipotent Leonard looked in Game 1. The Bucks or Celtics would loom anyways. Plus, the Warriors have their own hands full with the Rockets, who just might have been an untimely injury from disrupting Golden State’s golden age this time last year. There’s a lot at play.

But if you’re searching for a rhyme to put with Leonard’s reason — if you need a story to tell yourself about what motivates Leonard as he plays with the most intense cool we have in this league — this might be it. Just as he’s turned so many opponents’ possessions on their heads by sticking his hand in the play, he could be wrecking another franchise’s storied run by leaping in.

And heck, maybe he’ll do that and still leave for Los Angeles (wearing Clippers black), or Los Angeles (wearing Lakers gold), or wherever this summer. Such a chaotic sports league needs chaotic actors. Why shouldn’t one of them also be one of the best players?

It fits his style. Let’s see if it fits his narrative, too.

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SSU v Wits officials could face disciplinary action

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The officials in Saturday’s 1-1 draw between SuperSport United and Bidvest Wits could face disciplinary action after match commissioner Stan Swart filed a report to SAFA.

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In the Premiership clash Wits saw a goal not awarded after the ball had clearly crossed the line on television replays, whereas SuperSport captain Dean Furman was handed what appeared to be a harsh red card.

In a scrap with Haashim Domingo, Furman appeared to be elbowed and it was his reaction to that led to a yellow card. After his protestations were deemed too inflammatory, the central midfielder then got his marching orders.

The referee Mduduzi Thwala and his linesman Abel Maphutha were the two figures involved in the controversy and they could now face strong action after Swart filed a report to the South African Football Association’s referees’ review committee.

Poor performances by officials in the past has lead to demotion or suspension. SAFA’s Head of Referees Department, Tenda Masikhwa, told Soccer Laduma a decision could be reached soon

He said: “Let us wait for the Review Committee to review the match and come up with recommendations.”

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Is an ‘insect apocalypse’ happening? How would we know?

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Is this dragonfly thriving, or just hanging on? Chris Luczkow/Flickr, CC BY

Insects scuttle, chew and fly through the world around us. Humans rely on them to pollinate plants, prey on insects that we don’t get along with, and to be movers and shakers for Earth’s ecosystems. It’s hard to imagine a world without insects.

That’s why news reports in recent months warning of an “insect apocalypse” sparked widespread alarm. These articles, which were based on long-term insect collections and a review of past studies, suggested that people alive today will witness the indiscriminate extinction of insect-kind.

I study fungi that can be used to control harmful insects, such as pests that damage crops and mosquitoes that transmit malaria. In my world, reports of mass insect die-offs are big news. But while there clearly is reason to be concerned about certain insects, such as the endangered rusty patched bumble bee or the American burying beetle, in my view it isn’t yet possible to predict a looming insect apocalypse.

More than 1 million insects have been discovered and named, but many millions have yet to be described. It’s undeniable that Earth is becoming increasingly inhospitable to some insects – but nightmarish conditions for one may be heaven to another.

Put another way, there is no perfect environment for all insects. And human impacts on the environment, like climate change and land development, very well may hurt beneficial insects and help harmful ones.

Insects account for 75% of all the known species on Earth. What makes them so successful?

Insect declines

Around the world, entomologists are looking wistfully into empty nets, and car owners are increasingly unsettled by their pristine windshields. It does not take decades of data collection and a degree to notice that in a human lifetime, our teeming world teems less.

The first study to set off alarms was published in 2017 by entomologists in Germany, who reported that over 27 years the biomass of flying insects in their traps had declined by 75%.
Another study from the Luquillo Long Term Ecological Research program site in the Puerto Rican rainforest reproduced an insect survey from the 1970s. It found that the biomass of arthropods – a large group of organisms that includes insects – had declined 10- to 60-fold in that time, and that lizards, frogs and birds that ate arthropods had also declined.

Underscoring this theme, in April 2019 two scholars published a review that synthesized over 70 reports of insect decline from around the world, and predicted mass insect extinctions within a human lifetime. They took a alarmist tone, and have been widely criticized for exaggerating their conclusions and selecting studies to review with the word “decline.”

Nonetheless, these researchers had no trouble finding studies to include in their review. Many scientists are currently analyzing the roles that climate change, land use, chemical pesticides and other factors have played in reported declines in many insect species.

The Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, once found throughout grasslands in the Pacific Northwest, was listed as endangered in 2013. The main cause is habitat loss, driven by development, tree encroachment and spread of invasive plants.
USFWS/Ted Thomas, CC BY

The end is not near

These discussions are important, but they don’t mean an insect apocalypse is under way. Predicting insect decline is hard to do without a lot of effort and data.

To predict an apocalypse, entomologists worldwide will need to conduct careful large-scale studies that involve collecting, identifying and counting many different insects. There are very few insects for which scientists have enough data now to reliably predict how many individuals there will be from year to year, let alone confidently chart a decline in each species. Most of the insects for which this information exists are species that are important for agricultural or human health, such as managed honey bees or mosquitoes.

And human actions are shifting balances between insect species. As an example, the mosquitoes that are best at spreading pathogens that cause disease have evolved to thrive near us. Entomologists call them anthropophilic, which means they love people.

That love extends to human impacts on the land. Insects that flutter from flower to flower won’t be happy when developers bulldoze a meadow and scatter tires around, but human-biting mosquitoes will be buzzing with excitement.

What else is out there?

Entomologists are uniformly concerned about the fate of insects in today’s changing world. But I believe the responsible approach is to push back on fire-and-brimstone rhetoric until detailed, large-scale studies are completed. Until then, these same gaps in our knowledge also make it hard to rule out that significant declines in diverse insects are happening. These gaps must be filled to illuminate challenges that insects face, from the inconvenient to the apocalyptic.

When the majority of insects remain to be described, it’s hard to value them. But here’s one example: Insecticide use in pear groves in China’s Sichuan Province has caused such a decline in native pollinators that beekeepers will not lend their bees to these orchards. These farmers are forced to pollinate their trees by hand – an expensive and time-consuming process if you aren’t an insect.

Similarly, native natural enemies played invisible roles in slowing the spread of the invasive brown marmorated stink bug when it was introduced into Pennsylvania in the 1990s. They included wasps that lay their eggs inside of stink bug eggs, and predatory insects and spiders that eat stink bugs eggs for breakfast.

Pollination and predation are just the start. Some insects could be sources of new drugs or traditional dyes, while others inspire artists or just provide little moments of inimitable beauty.

With so many unanswered questions, it’s clear that there is a need for more funding for biodiversity research. It is no coincidence that recent studies reporting massive insect declines came from a Long-Term Ecological Research center that is publicly funded through the National Science Foundation and from a carefully curated collection made and maintained by entomologists.

This kind of work requires money, bold foresight and dedication to science over long periods of time. But it can produce insights into how our world is changing – and that knowledge will help us prepare for the future.

The Conversation

Brian Lovett does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Shutting down social media does not reduce violence, but rather fuels it

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It might seem easy to shut off internet services, but it can be dangerous. Olesya Zhuk/

In the wake of a series of coordinated attacks that claimed more than 250 lives on April 21, the government of Sri Lanka shut off its residents’ access to social media and online messaging systems, including Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Snapchat and Viber. The official government concern was that “false news reports were spreading through social media.”

Some commentators applauded the move, suggesting the dangers of disinformation on social media justified shutting down communication networks in times of crisis. Five years of research on the impact of shutdowns and other information controls on societies worldwide have led me to the exact opposite conclusion.

A diverse community of academics, businesses and civil society groups shares my view. The blackouts deprived Sri Lankans of impartial news reports and disconnected families from each other as they sought to find out who had survived and who was among the dead and injured. Most strikingly, recent research suggests that the blackouts might have increased the potential for protest and violence in the wake of the attack.

This Sri Lankan man in New York City couldn’t reach loved ones on social media, so he had to turn to an older technology: landline phones.
AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

A constellation of control

Sri Lanka’s latest social media shutdown was not an isolated incident. The first time Sri Lanka took a similar action was amid violent unrest in 2018. It was one of 188 network shutdowns or large-scale disruptions to digital communication that year all around the world, according to digital rights advocacy organization Access Now.

Overall, since the Arab Spring began in 2010, governments have carried out at least 400 shutdowns across more than 40 countries. Those include hundreds of ephemeral shutdowns in India, where they first emerged as a localized response to unrest in the northern region of Kashmir and subsequently spread to most other states.

The number also includes so-called “digital sieges,” which last for weeks or months at a time. For example, long-lasting, government-imposed blackouts have ravaged burgeoning digital economies such as that of Anglophone Cameroon and have disconnected businesses, relatives and communities in Chad for more than a year.

In study after study, civil society organizations have documented the human rights problems caused by internet shutdowns and the economic damage they produce.

Only recently have researchers begun to ask a more fundamental question: Do massive disruptions to digital communication achieve their intended purposes? Sri Lanka’s government is one of many to publicly claim that their goal in severing communication links is to prevent the spread of disinformation and decrease violence based on those falsehoods – but not a single one has followed a shutdown with any sort of evidence that it worked to protect public safety.

Read more:
Sri Lanka attacks: government’s social media ban may hide the truth about what is happening

Exploring the (dis)connection

Of course, the coexistence of social media and social turbulence does not necessarily imply that one causes the other. Many scholars have tried to figure out if there is a link between access to social media and violence, but it’s an extremely difficult task.

For one thing, social media websites and services are always changing how their systems work, making them hard to study over time. Connectivity also advances at a lightning-fast pace: In 2018, for instance, internet penetration in rural India increased at an annual rate of 30%, connecting hundreds of millions of people for the first time. Today, roughly three Indian citizens are introduced to the internet every second.

Shutdowns, however, are fixed in time and space, and their effects blanket large swathes of an area’s population. This lets scholars study their effects with more confidence. Paradoxically, then, one of the best methods of evaluating technology’s effects on society may be to examine what happens when communications are suddenly cut off.

Research on early blackouts has shown that Egypt’s disappearance from the global internet in 2011 backfired spectacularly, spreading protesters away from Tahrir Square and into numerous decentralized pockets of resistance. Coordination of the demonstrations swiftly moved from Facebook event pages to individual efforts in each neighborhood. This proved impossible for security forces to subdue. Ten days later, the Mubarak regime fell.

In the Syrian Civil War, the government used shutdowns as a weapon of war, following up with increased violence against civilians. In Africa, authoritarian governments that own the communication infrastructure and leaders who rule in virtual perpetuity are more inclined to pull the plug, but there is no evidence to suggest that shutdowns are effective in discouraging street protest or violent unrest.

Indeed, official explanations for shutdowns – if the government acknowledges them at all – are often at odds with their likely true motivations, which include silencing opposition figures and ensuring a state monopoly on information during contentious elections. In the midst of a crisis, this leaves the government as the only official gatekeeper of information. That becomes especially problematic when the government itself becomes a conduit for false and potentially harmful news, as was the case when Sri Lankan media circulated police reports that falsely identified a student at Brown University as a terrorist following the recent attack.

What happens without a connection?

Protests are not monolithic forces, and their participants can adapt to changing circumstances – including a sudden lack of information and even a blockage of communication and coordination. The global proliferation of shutdowns and rapid improvements in data about protests and conflicts enable researchers to analyze not only whether protests continue during internet blackouts, but also how they shift and change.

In India, state governments have faced thousands of peaceful demonstrations, as well as episodes of violent unrest. The country has become by far the world’s most prolific executor of deliberate internet blackouts over the last several years.

To find out the role of internet access in these events, I used precise, daily-level data on thousands of protests that occurred in the 36 states and Union Territories of India in 2016, as well as data tracking the location, timing and duration of shutdowns from a variety of cross-referenced news sources and civil society groups.

The results were striking: Under a blackout, each successive day of protest had more violence than would typically happen as a protest unfolded with continued internet access. Meanwhile, the effects of shutdowns on peaceful demonstrations, which are usually more likely to rely on careful coordination through digital channels, were ambiguous and inconsistent. In no scenario were blackouts consistently linked to reduced levels of protest over the course of several days. Instead of curtailing protest, they seemed to encourage a tactical shift to strategies that are less orderly, more chaotic and more violent.

Darkness is a phone call away

Recent events only seem to confirm these dynamics. The regimes of Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algeria and Omar al-Bashir in Sudan both resorted to shutdowns before imploding. The drastic measures did nothing to rein in the protests in either country. Instead, shutting off internet access may have accelerated their downfalls.

Even if shutdowns are ineffective, they can be tempting for governments that need to be seen taking action. Vague and often antiquated laws let them implement drastic measures like shutdowns easily and quickly, with a written order or even a simple phone call. But every time a government uses the tactic, it makes others more likely to follow suit – in the same country and around the world. The evidence shows that this takes a heavy toll on their citizens, both economically and in terms of human rights, without offering them any additional protection or safety.

The Conversation

Jan Rydzak does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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At work, women and people of color still have not broken the glass ceiling

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Women of color hold more professional and managerial jobs today than they did in 1996. GaudiLab/

Did you notice the race of your barista this morning? What about the sex of your mechanic?

I have observed that when I shop, most of the employees look like me. When I go to work, most of my co-workers look different from me.

If my observations about occupational segregation hold across the labor force, women and people of color like myself have yet to break the glass ceiling. So, I sought evidence of continuing barriers to equal employment for members of historically marginalized groups.

My new study, presented at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference on April 5, shows that barriers indeed remain.

Evaluating Equal Employment Opportunity

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This statute outlaws discrimination, segregation and other employment actions motivated motivated by sex, race, color, religion or national origin.

As part of its regulatory activity, the EEOC requires private employers with more than 100 employees to annually complete the EEO-1 form. This form asks employers to describe the race and sex of all employees, grouped by a number of occupational categories.

I analyzed the high-level occupations of “professionals” – which includes engineers, lawyers, doctors and teachers – and “officials and managers.” I grouped all other occupations, such as “craft workers” and “laborers,” together, because they occupy lower positions on the career ladder, despite spanning industries.

My study plotted demographic trends in these groups from 1996 to 2016. I then compared each demographic group’s representation in the broader labor force.

Women’s increasing access to high-level positions

White men have historically and disproportionately held official, managerial and professional occupations.

But, between 1996 and 2016, the proportion of jobs held by this group declined across all occupations. I believe that some of this is due to the increasing percentage of people of color in the overall U.S. population.

Trends in white women’s employment representation over the last 20 years suggest that Title VII is having an impact among this group.

In 2016, white women made up 32% of the U.S. labor force. Although their representation in official and managerial occupations is a bit lower, at 29.8%, their numbers have been increasing.

White women are overrepresented in professional jobs, occupying 38.2% of positions. However, their share of these jobs is declining, possibly because more white women are being promoted to official and managerial roles.

Nonwhite women occupy an intersectional social position, potentially facing unlawful employment barriers based on both their perceived sex and race.

My study demonstrates that, like white women, nonwhite women are underrepresented in official and managerial occupations. However, their representation is increasing. In 2016, they were 10.9% of the labor force, but 8.6% of officers and managers.

Meanwhile, nonwhite women are overrepresented in professional occupations and their representation is increasing. That suggests to me that they are not being promoted from this level as white women are.

Nonwhites work lower-level jobs

In lower-level occupations, like labor and service, nonwhite women are overrepresented, and their representation is increasing. The same is true for nonwhite men.

Because the employer submits the EEO-1, employees who work more than one job may be counted multiple times. My research suggests that workers in the “other” occupational category, including those working for minimum wage, are disproportionately nonwhite, and some are likely holding more than one job.

In contrast, nonwhite men are underrepresented in official, managerial and professional positions, though their representation is increasing. That may be evidence of continued discrimination, occupational segregation or other employment barriers based on race.

Presidents’ unexpected impact

It is challenging to accurately evaluate social policy, because there are so many factors which contribute to measurable outcomes.

My study looked at a number of variables that could potentially affect demographic representation in the job market, such as the unemployment rate, filed charges of discrimination and public opinion of affirmative action.

Of all the variables that I modeled, the impact of a Democratic president surprised me most.

When a Democrat was president, white men held a greater proportion of all high-level occupations, while the representation of white women in these jobs decreased.

During a Democratic presidency, the representation of nonwhite women in professional jobs decreased, as did the representative employment of all nonwhites in the other occupational categories.

Previous research has found that the president affects the rate of race and sex desegregation in employment. In my study, Democratic presidents had a counterintuitive influence. These results are not likely attributed to presidential policy, but may indicate employer decisions driven by political backlash against Democrats and affirmative action policy.

Pass the hammer

I want to expand this study to include small and government employers, wage differences across sex and race, and educational attainment.

Despite limitations, my study shows that the U.S. has made strides toward breaking the glass ceiling for women. However, racial segregation across lower-level occupations remains a problem. I believe that more intervention is needed there, including the serious consideration of a higher federal minimum wage.

I am discouraged that the glass ceiling remains a solid barrier for nonwhite employees looking to be promoted. As intended in 1964, when Title VII was established, everyone should have the opportunity to succeed on their merit, regardless of identity.

The Conversation

Tesa Rigel Hines does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Uber’s $9 billion IPO rests on drivers’ 80-plus hour workweeks and a lot of waiting

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Uber’s upcoming initial public offering may be one of the biggest in history, with the ride-hailing company expected to raise up to US$9 billion.

That’s good news for its early investors and executives, who could reap $1.3 billion from the IPO.

For the potentially hundreds of thousands of drivers who do it as their largest or main source of income? Not so much. That may be why some of them plan to go on strike in seven U.S. cities for 12 hours on May 8.

For the past two years, I’ve spoken with dozens of full-time Uber and Lyft drivers in Seattle to get an on-the-ground understanding of how the technologies supporting the platform-based gig economy are affecting workers.

Their stories help illustrate why so many of them find it difficult to earn a living wage as an app-based driver.

Just ‘chilling’

To see why, it helps to understand how Uber operates – and why investors value it so highly.

Uber doesn’t see itself as a transportation company. Rather, it sells itself as a technology middle person that efficiently connects riders to “transportation providers” with its algorithms. Uber’s ads boast that drivers can move from “earning” to “chilling” with a push of a button, making it easy to “get your side hustle on.” Lyft similarly promises “you’re free to drive, earn and get paid when you choose.”

Researchers have found that many of its drivers do in fact enjoy this flexibility as most use Uber or Lyft infrequently as a side gig – or until they have earned the promotional bonus. But many others – perhaps as many as two-thirds in some areas – rely on it as their largest source of income.

These drivers are the ones who make it possible for Uber to honor a key selling point to investors: near-instant driver availability. Uber’s aim to provide consumers a ride within five minutes of a click was considered a key differentiator from taxis even before it launched in 2009.

That availability necessitates a legion of essentially full-time drivers who spend many unpaid hours waiting – not “chilling” – until a fare comes their way. Drivers are only paid once they pick up a passenger. Every minute they spend waiting for a pickup or even driving to meet a rider they are simply losing money.

Media and management

To better understand how drivers navigate this challenge, I interviewed 63 drivers for Uber and Lyft as well as union organizers and policymakers in Seattle over the past two years.

The research is part of my ongoing examination of media’s role in labor management, a project that looks at how managers have used different types of media – from film that showcased efficient manual workers back in the early 20th century to today’s apps and algorithms – to nudge workers to be more productive. At the same time, they typically insist their use of new technologies will be good for workers as well.

For example, Uber claims that its “matching technology” creates a “seamless pickup experience” that connects “riders and drivers more efficiently,” reduces wait time for riders and produces “more business” for drivers.

But the drivers I spoke with shared a very different experience. And Uber’s own data suggests that drivers spend about half of their time on the app without a fared passenger. The ones I interviewed said that waiting time could be even longer.

The three stories below are typical of the other 60. All names are pseudonyms to protect them from retaliation.

Waiting on a fare

Ayele, a middle-aged married father of two who’s been driving for Uber and Lyft for more than six years and currently works only for the Uber Black luxury service, estimates that more than half of the 80-plus hours he’s on the app each week is spent waiting for a fare. He says there are days where he’s spent as many as 16 hours on call in order to get just a few passengers.

While the long waits are necessary to make ends meet – he sends money to his father, sister and other relatives in Ethiopia – he earns “way below” the minimum wage of $15.

Ayele, whom I interviewed at a Teamster’s hall outside Seattle, is a member of the App-Based Drivers Association, a union that’s been pushing for regulations that would require living wages for drivers.

He told me he joined the union because the rising number of drivers and falling incomes made him realize “there is a necessity to be united.”

‘A gift from the Lord’

Muhsin, a five-year veteran of Uber and Lyft, also works as much as 80 hours a week.

He says he earns just $9 to $12 an hour after expenses and wait time, which is around the national average found in studies by the Department of Labor, Economic Policy Institute and Ridester. Ridester’s late 2018 survey, for example, suggests drivers earn a national average of less than $10 an hour after expenses, which for a 40-hour workweek would be below the poverty threshold for a family of three.

Muhsin puts in such long hours, even at low pay, because he views it as his familial and God-given responsibility to send money to his poor relatives “home” in Somalia.

“It’s a gift from the Lord that I’m working,” the 32-year-old said.

Unpredictability and stress

Salim, a 58-year old Ethiopian driver for Uber Black, jokingly described his profession as a waiter. “I wait a lot.”

When asked what he does while waiting, he shrugged his shoulders, emphasizing that he “cannot plan … because you always wait for the phone call.”

As a father of two children under 12 and one adult son who depend on his income, Salim could not afford to miss answering the app’s call because doing so puts him at risk for a low acceptance rate, which can lead to “deactivation.”

Salim said it can also be emotionally and physically stressful. Studies have shown that the long, unpredictable and underpaid hours can lead to physical, mental, emotional and marital strain.

Salim himself says he’s witnessed three drivers collapse while waiting in the uncovered airport parking lot during the summer months. The airport only recently added portable toilets and running though not potable water, which alleviates some of the physical stress of waiting.

The company ‘engine’

Unions that represent drivers are trying to find ways to ensure their members get paid for all this time spent being on call.

A new law that took effect in New York City in February requires ride-hailing companies to pay their drivers at least $17.22 an hour after expenses, a figure that’s meant to account for idle time. Unions in Los Angeles, Seattle and elsewhere are pushing for similar laws – as well as ways to appeal the deactivation of a driver’s account.

So as early investors and executives for Uber and Lyft – which raised $2.34 billion in its own IPO in March – collect their windfalls, they should spare a thought for the drivers who made it possible.

“We are the engine of the company,” said 42-year-old Ahmad, a father of two who drives for Uber and Lyft for 100 hours a week. I believe it’s time drivers get paid as if they are.

The Conversation

Michelle Rodino-Colocino shares information with unions representing app-based and taxi drivers but receives no compensation for it. She has received travel grants to the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, and the Walter Reuther Library at Wayne State to travel to their archives for research that is related to the study mentioned in the article. Previously she has worked for organizations that advocate for workers, including as interim chair for Penn State’s local campus chapter of the American Association of University Professors. She thanks Penn State’s Bellisario School of Communication for funding her research in Seattle.

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Will There Be Things To Do In Denver When You Bet? Colorado Sports Betting Bill Speeding Along

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An effort to send Colorado sports betting to the ballot this fall is zipping through the state legislature this month.

Just two weeks after being introduced, H 1327 cleared the House last week and appears on its way to the Senate floor. The bill passed through the Senate’s Finance and Appropriations committees in the past couple of days.

Only one major amendment arose in committee. A “hold-harmless” fund equal to 6 percent of the sports betting tax collection will be set aside to offset any potential hardships from the advent of wagering.

Colorado’s legislature is set to adjourn by the end of the week. These fast moves are standard operating procedure for a bill that appears this late in a session.

CO sports betting a multi-step process

Most important to note is that the bill does not legalize CO sports betting. Because Colorado operates under a voter-approved Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), any new tax must be approved at the ballot box.

That means legislators must send Colorado sports betting in front of voters for approval. The timeline might be short, though, as legal sports betting could be added to the November ballot.

A positive vote could create CO sports wagering by May 2020. The Centennial State plays host to all four major professional sports leagues and could soon feature mobile wagering.

The Colorado sports betting bill

Legal Sports Report provided the first look at the Colorado sports betting bill earlier in April.

The bill would develop three categories of licenses:

  • Master license
  • Sports betting operator
  • Internet sports betting operator

Each of Colorado’s 33 casinos could submit and application for a master license. How much that license would cost remains undetermined, but they would be good for a period of two years.

Each licensee could partner with one land-based operator and one internet operator (or use the same partner for both) and deploy one online/mobile platform.

The tax rate proposed is a reasonable 10 percent of sports betting revenue. Only esports and high school sports appear to be banned.

Gambling in Colorado is limited to three mountain towns: Black HawkCentral City, and Cripple Creek. Voters rejected multiple attempts to expand, including a 70 percent decision against racetrack casinos in 2014.

The post Will There Be Things To Do In Denver When You Bet? Colorado Sports Betting Bill Speeding Along appeared first on Legal Sports Report.

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Florida Sports Betting Efforts Not Finished As Governor, Tribes Continue Talks

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Is it time to get excited about Florida sports betting?

Probably not.

Florida is known for many things: beaches, oranges, Florida Man, and more recently, getting people excited about the possibility of sports betting coming to the Sunshine State.

Florida sports betting talk has been relatively quiet since the November election and the passage of Amendment 3. That will require voters to authorize new casino gambling in the state, which makes the recent news about a possible new compact exciting.

Reasons for FL sports betting optimism

Governor Ron DeSantis met with a large contingent of the state’s gaming stakeholders on April 26. The meeting followed a discussion between the DeSantis and Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcus Osceola, CEO of Seminole Gaming Jim Allen, and the Seminole Tribe’s General Counsel, Jim Shore.

The gaming summit appears to have been initiated by the governor, which might be a positive sign for negotiations moving forward that could reportedly include legal sports betting being part of a compact renegotiation and/or gaming expansion.

Barbara Havenick, representing her family who owns pari-mutuel facilities in Miami-Dade County, was quoted by the Florida News Service as stating:

“…It’s the first time since I’ve been involved that he’s gotten this whole group together. There’s never been a time that the industry’s been together and hasn’t wanted to kill itself.”

So the fact that the parties are at the table talking is a positive, one that has not been present during some more recent negotiations between the Seminole Tribe and the state’s representatives. After all, the first compact negotiations took 20 years before an agreement was reached.

What could be in a deal?

There is a new proposal for a 31-year deal between the state and the tribe. The current deal, which was signed in 2010, is a 20-year deal that isn’t half over yet.

Amongst the topics purportedly discussed was allowing Seminole Tribe casinos, as well as non-tribally operated Florida racetracks and jai alai facilities (frontons), to offer sports betting.

The plan seems to be to allow the tribe, via the casinos, to act as a “hub” for Florida sports betting statewide, which may indicate a potential need to register in-person at a casino.

As we noted back in November, this was the most likely path forward for sports betting in Florida.

Big reasons to slow your roll

Just a week before his meeting with stakeholders, DeSantis questioned whether in-play betting posed integrity risks. But far bigger than the mechanics of what type of sports betting offerings the state would have is the fact that the Seminole Tribe and state of Florida have bickered over the compact frequently since it was approved.

Most prominently, the state and the Seminole Tribe, who on the backing of a ruling by a federal judge, argued that the state allowing pari-mutuel facilities to offer so-called designated player card games violated the tribe’s exclusivity over banked card games (e.g. blackjack.)

The tribe and the state reached a settlement in 2017, which provided for the tribe to continue making payments of $350 million a year to the state until May 31.

It’s also important to note that the meeting between DeSantis was not limited to Florida sports betting, and much of the conversation appears to have been focused on the state’s horse racing industry.

Clock is ticking for Florida sports betting

Perhaps the biggest barrier against something happening soon is that there is about a week left in this legislative session, and the possibility of a special session appears somewhat distant at the moment (while subject to change, and quickly).

The governor’s office appears to be in an exploratory or educational phase with regards to gaming issues, and while possible, there is little indication that this is an issue that he will seek to fast-track before the end of the session.

Another wrinkle

Early in April, No Casinos In Florida sent a letter to Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva and Senate President Bill Galvano, voicing their opposition to the proposition of expanding sports betting to Florida.

The organization retained Tallahassee-based lawyer Paul M. Hawkes to draft a legal opinion on the potential expansion of sports gambling into the Sunshine State in the wake of Amendment 3 passing.

The opinion letter begins by arguing that the legislature cannot authorize FL sports betting, absent voter approval, as sports betting falls within the definition of “casino gambling.”

In fact, the Hawkes opinion letter appears to even argue that Amendment 3 precludes the state from entering a new compact with the Seminole Tribe that would authorize sports betting without the approval of 70 percent of state voters.

What to make of this FL sports betting news

This argument, while persuasive, does raise a potentially interesting question about one of the exceptions to Amendment 3:

Nothing herein shall be deemed to limit the right of the Legislature to exercise its authority through general law to restrict, regulate, or tax any gaming or gambling activities.

In addition, nothing herein shall be construed to limit the ability of the state or Native American tribes to negotiate gaming compacts pursuant to the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act for the conduct of casino gambling on tribal lands, or to affect any existing gambling on tribal lands pursuant to compacts executed by the state and Native American tribes pursuant to IGRA.

The question of whether a so-called repeal and replace approach may work —  hat tip to the landmark Murphy case for the idea — to evade the arguments raised by Hawkes is uncertain. Under a repeal and replace action, the state would repeal their bans on sports betting, something that is not an authorization (flashbacks anyone?), and then effectively restrict where and who can conduct these activities.

Is this a workable solution? Maybe, maybe not. It is likely to end up in court if the state decides to attempt to pull it off (DeSantis I?).

So is Florida sports betting coming soon?

It remains unlikely that FL sports betting is coming soon. While there have been some positive steps forward, the relationship between the legislature and gaming stakeholders in the state has been historically tenuous and it is not likely that much has changed.

The Hawkes letter is interesting and advances some persuasive arguments. Given that the Seminole Tribe were the ones who pushed for Amendment 3 and are one of the best legally represented groups in the country, it would seem to be incredibly shortsighted that in a period of six months, they would throw nearly $25 million behind the amendment that ends up blocking something they want. Again, it is not clear how bullish the Seminole Tribe is on sports betting.

If for no other reason than they were the primary backers for Amendment 3, it is likely that the Seminole Tribe (and the state) believe that the exemption in Amendment 3 is broad enough to let them negotiate to have the games they want. Otherwise, Amendment 3 would have been a very costly mistake.

Despite this, even if a new agreement is reached, do not expect it to come into force without a legal fight.

The post Florida Sports Betting Efforts Not Finished As Governor, Tribes Continue Talks appeared first on Legal Sports Report.

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