The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Another ruling in the gig economy

The Federal court in the Northern District of California ruled today that GrubHub delivery drivers are contractors, not employees:

The ruling may have far-reaching implications for other sharing economy companies, including Uber Technologies Inc., whose business models are built on pairing customers with products and services through apps and typically avoid the costs of traditional employment.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley in San Francisco concluded Thursday, in a first-of-its-kind ruling, that a gig-economy driver doesn't qualify for the protections of employees under California law.

Charlotte Garden, an associate law professor at Seattle University, said Corley's decision is a “doubly big” win for GrubHub due to California's relatively high standard for establishing workers as independent contractors.

“If they can make it here, they can more likely make it anywhere,” Garden said. “It is also the first federal court to reach a verdict on whether workers in the gig economy are employees or not, so companies like Uber and Lyft will also be celebrating this win.”

(Of course, Uber may not survive its ongoing struggle with the Justice Department for other reasons, but that's not the point.)

Judge Corley admonished the state legislature to fix the problem this case exposed: “Under California law whether an individual performing services for another is an employee or an independent contractor is an all-or-nothing proposition,” she wrote. “With the advent of the gig economy, and the creation of a low wage workforce performing low skill but highly flexible episodic jobs, the legislature may want to address this stark dichotomy.”

We can expect multiple lawsuits in other Federal circuits any day now. 

File that under "B" for "Bad OpSec"

Via Bruce Schneier (and other sources), the Australian government suffered one of its worst-ever disclosures of secrets caused by not looking through used furniture:

It begins at a second-hand shop in Canberra, where ex-government furniture is sold off cheaply.

The deals can be even cheaper when the items in question are two heavy filing cabinets to which no-one can find the keys.

They were purchased for small change and sat unopened for some months until the locks were attacked with a drill.

Inside was the trove of documents now known as The Cabinet Files.

The thousands of pages reveal the inner workings of five separate governments and span nearly a decade.

Nearly all the files are classified, some as "top secret" or "AUSTEO", which means they are to be seen by Australian eyes only.

But the ex-government furniture sale was not limited to Australians — anyone could make a purchase.

And had they been inclined, there was nothing stopping them handing the contents to a foreign agent or government.

The found documents ranged from embarrassing (to both major Australian parties) to seriously top secret (troop deployments, police investigations). In response, the Australian government is calling for increased penalties for publishing or even possessing secret documents—but as Schneier points out, in this case that would have made the breech immeasurably worse for Australia:

This illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the threat. The Australian Broadcasting Corp gets their funding from the government, and was very restrained in what they published. They waited months before publishing as they coordinated with the Australian government. They allowed the government to secure the files, and then returned them. From the government's perspective, they were the best possible media outlet to receive this information. If the government makes it illegal for the Australian press to publish this sort of material, the next time it will be sent to the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, or Wikileaks. And since people no longer read their news from newspapers sold in stores but on the Internet, the result will be just as many people reading the stories with far fewer redactions.

In all, it's a reminder of the security adage that no security system can completely protect against human stupidity.

Setting up lunchtime reading

Over the weekend I made a couple of minor updates to Weather Now, and today I'm going to spend some time taking it off its Azure Web Role and moving it to an Azure Website. That will (a) save me money and (b) make deployments a lot easier.

Meanwhile, a number of articles bubbled up overnight that I'll try to read at lunchtime:

Back to Azure deployment strategies.

The peasants have no bread

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan tweeted early yesterday the great news about the tax breaks ordinary people are experiencing:

Never mind all the Democrats who call the GOP’s tax bill a deficit-busting giveaway to the rich; House Speaker Paul D. Ryan has been enthusiastically promoting it as a middle-class tax windfall.

He’s been coaching other Republican lawmakers to sell the $1.5 trillion tax cut to voters, and telling people on Twitter to check their paychecks for wage hikes. The bill — which was deeply unpopular when it passed along party lines in December — is now breaking even in a new opinion poll.

So Saturday morning, by way of good news, Ryan’s Twitter account shared a story about a secretary taking home a cool $6 a month in tax savings.

Wow. An extra $1.50 a week will make a huge difference to that taxpayer. That might even let her eat cake.

The administration's insane attack on law enforcement

Confronted with the options that these guys are master strategists or they're not even thinking about their next move, Occam's Razor suggests we're dealing with serious stupidity here:

The war between the president and the nation’s law enforcement apparatus is unlike anything America has seen in modern times. With a special counsel investigating whether his campaign collaborated with Russia in 2016 and whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice in 2017, the president has engaged in a scorched-earth assault on the pillars of the criminal justice system in a way that no other occupant of the White House has done.

At the start of his administration, Mr. Trump targeted the intelligence community for his criticism. But in recent months, he has broadened the attacks to include the sprawling federal law enforcement bureaucracy that he oversees, to the point that in December he pronounced the F.B.I.’s reputation “in tatters” and the “worst in history.”

In his telling, that bureaucracy, now run by his own appointees, is a nest of political saboteurs out to undermine him — an accusation that raised fears that he was tearing at the credibility of some of the most important institutions in American life to save himself.

This is insane. Even the Republicans in Congress who are enabling this behavior must know, on some level, it's insane.

In other news, the next presidential term begins in only 1,081 days...

What else I'm reading today at lunch

Fun times, fun times.

More follow-up from Tuesday

Aside: how the hell is it already February?

Moving on. Two more articles popped up about Tuesday night's State of the Union speech. First, via Deeply Trivial, Andrea Jones-Rooy at 538 points out that very little of what presidents propose in the SOTU actually gets enacted:

From Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama, according to [Donna Hoffman and Alison Howard], presidents made an average of 34 proposals in each State of the Union or initial address to a joint session of Congress. The most requests a president made during this period were Bill Clinton’s 87 in 2000. The fewest were just nine by Jimmy Carter in 1980.1

About 25 percent of policy announcements were ultimately successful, according to Hoffman and Howard’s definition of success, which is a complete enactment of the president’s recommended policy within a year of the address.2 They grade 14 percent more as partial successes — times when the president got a portion of the policy he asked for. The average policy agenda success rate increased to 32.7 percent when a president’s party controlled both houses of Congress, which Trump’s does.3

Altogether, an average of 60.6 percent of policy proposals mentioned in the State of the Union never materialized, suggesting that any one request from Trump is more likely not to be turned into legislation. The least successful — or, if you prefer, most ambitious — president since Johnson was Gerald Ford, with a 71.4 percent failure rate over his time in office. Johnson was the most successful — or, if you prefer, most realistic — with a 47.1 percent failure rate.

Given a hostile minority and a comical lack of bipartisanship, I don't expect much of the president's program to survive until the election.

Meanwhile, James Fallows—who has written parts of SOTUs in his life—annotates this one.

I will need alcohol after this exercise

I'm finally reading last night's State of the Union address, and...well...oy, gevalt.

The speech doesn't really have a lot of coherence, but SOTU speeches rarely do. Still, there's something about reading it that makes me wonder who Steve Miller actually thought would deliver it.

For example, these two passages:

All Americans deserve accountability and respect—and that is what we are giving them. So tonight, I call on the Congress to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers—and to remove Federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.

In our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history.

First, that's a single excerpt, one clip, of the speech. There are three thoughts here, and I kind of see how they hang together. But eliminating regulations doesn't to me have much to do with accountability. In fact, the specific regulations they're eliminating will, in fact, make industry less accountable to the people, and we should start seeing unintended consequences (like death and destruction) pretty soon.

But look what he's asking for: an end to civil service protections and the politicization of the Federal bureaucracy. That's pretty consistent with authoritarian rulers the world over. It must not happen here.

Later:

America has also finally turned the page on decades of unfair trade deals that sacrificed our prosperity and shipped away our companies, our jobs, and our Nation's wealth.

The era of economic surrender is over.

From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and to be reciprocal.

We will work to fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones.

And we will protect American workers and American intellectual property, through strong enforcement of our trade rules.

So...we're scrapping multilateral trade deals in favor of making lots of bilateral deals, all while removing regulations from industry? How will that work, exactly? Won't having ten or a hundred bilateral treaties cause a hundredfold increase in regulations? I know the President doesn't know how this works, but surely someone in the administration must, right?

And then this:

So tonight, I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties—Democrats and Republicans—to protect our citizens of every background, color, religion, and creed. My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans—to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream. Because Americans are dreamers too.

You know what? F you too, Donnie. "Let's work together, we all want the same thing, and you know what? You're all ugly." (This is where some Democrats booed him.)

I could go on to his bald-face lies about how visas work, to his claiming a number of President Obama's achievements as his own, to his touting a tax "reform" that swindles the middle class out of being middle class...but no, I'll let the professionals chime in for the rest:

I can't wait till the next one, and hope he gives it to a Democratic majority.

Amazon as Tom Sawyer (with billions in cash)

Amazon's bidding process for its second headquarters (HQ2) has given the company a bonanza of information about what 238 cities are willing to give up in order to get a piece of the action, and thus what levers Amazon can pull to get public money for its private gain. Not to mention, the applications gave the company millions of dollars worth of marketing data:

Amazon asked every city and state applying for its second headquarters for details about local resources, like available talent and transit options. Local officials were also prodded for tips on local education programs and tax incentives.

The answers — most of which have not been released publicly — essentially do Amazon’s homework for it, providing valuable information that the company otherwise would have needed to dig up on its own or obtain through one-on-one negotiations.

“This is not just about HQ2,” said Richard Florida, an authority on urban development and a professor at the University of Toronto. “It’s about a broader locational strategy. HQ2 is the carrot. That’s the only thing that makes sense.”

Meanwhile, CityLab has put together a guide to the "HQ2 Hunger Games" with detailed breakdowns of the 20 finalists. And they second the Times' assessment on Amazon's ulterior motives: "As CityLab has previously reported, the economic incentives being offered to lure Amazon’s 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment were historic in proportion even before the company announced the finalists."