Weekly reading 25th June 2022

What I wrote last week

Books on Payments

Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade and took away abortion rights

Business

Inside the Reinvention of Albertsons Cos. The over-arching theme of Albertsons’ plan moving forward is to use technology and data to make decisions so that efficiency can improve and so does customer engagement. Grocery is a hard business. Margin is low and competition is fierce. Albertsons said their goal was to have shoppers complete grocery shopping at their stores without visiting rivals’ footprint while offering local assortments. It means that the selection has to be broad, but the stores at the same time cannot expand in size forever. They also need to keep a close eye on costs and margin as well. That would require a lot of data analytics, coordination in the case of omni-channel shopping and great execution.

($) Retailers’ Inventories Pile Up as Lead Times Grow. On top of the ever-changing consumer behavior and sky-high inflation, retailers now have to deal with long lead times in production which make it even more difficult to match demand with supply while keeping costs in check. Hold a lot of the wrong inventory to avoid supply chain and production issues, and you will be punished like Walmart or Target. Be nimble with inventory and you don’t have well-stocked shelves to woo customers. Hard times ahead.

Consumer watchdog eyes crackdown on credit card late fees as inflation threatens to increase them. If CFPB introduces regulations on late fees, it will affect how issuers generate revenue from credit cards. Late fee is a significant source of revenue by itself, but it also encourages consumers to pay off balance to avoid further penalty. If late fees are further capped or even outright banned, such an incentive will go away and consumers may carry more balance. It will increase risks and reduce revenue for issuers. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops.

($) Canada to Compel YouTube, TikTok and Streamers to Boost Domestic Content. I am generally supportive of having the right kind of regulations in place to help businesses. Hence, I would be in favor of the Canadian government giving these streamers incentives to promote Canadian creators’ work. I am not; however, ok with a government mandating a preference of local content.

($) GM and Ford, Driving to Beat Tesla, Turn on Each Other. An interesting read on how two iconic American car manufacturers are going at each other for market shares in the EV area.

($) How Singapore Got Its Manufacturing Mojo Back. “In courting factories like this, Singapore has become a rare wealthy country to reverse its manufacturing downturn. The city-state had faced industrial decline, with World Bank figures showing manufacturing falling to 18% of gross domestic product in 2013, from 27% in 2005. Then manufacturing made a comeback in Singapore, rising to 21% of GDP in 2020, according to the World Bank’s latest figures. Singapore has aggressively wooed highly automated factories with tax breaks, research partnerships, subsidized worker training and grants to local manufacturers to upgrade operations to better support multinational companies, among other enticements. There’s a caveat: Singapore’s success has come by automating away many jobs. It has more factory robots per employee than any country other than South Korea. Business executives say Singapore has succeeded because it has a welcoming, low-tax government and a strong base of English-speaking science, engineering and mathematics graduates and manufacturing managers. Relatively loose immigration laws make it easy to hire foreign engineers.  Executives also say they trust intellectual-property protection laws in Singapore, unlike in places like China where they sometimes worry their partners will copy their products.”

Source: Twitter

Other stuff I find interesting

Japan to subsidize TSMC’s Kumamoto plant by up to $3.5bn. Semiconductor companies get handsome subsidies from governments from all over the world. Japan will give TSMC $3.5 billion while Europe hands Intel billions of euros to build a plant there. That goes to show how countries value the strategic importance of semiconductor going forward

Why America Will Lose Semiconductors. A good run-down of problems that America faces in semiconductor. It’s a nice complementary read to the previous link

Friendly fungi help forests fight climate change. “A 2016 study led by researchers from Imperial College London revealed that one particular type – ectomycorrhizal fungi – enables certain trees to absorb CO2 faster (and therefore grow faster) than others. This is known as the “CO2 fertilisation effect”. These fungi live in the root system of a host tree. In a symbiotic relationship, fungi help the tree to absorb more water, carbon and other nutrients. In exchange, the tree provides food for the fungi by photosynthesising. Ectomycorrhizal fungi have also been found to slow down the process of rotting; decomposition breaks down all that locked-away carbon and releases it into the atmosphere. So the fungi, in effect, have two methods of fighting global warming.”

The most dangerous place on Earth. “Nestled on Lithuania’s southeastern border, Druskininkai opens onto a narrow notch of strategic territory known as the Suwałki Gap. Stretching about 100 kilometers along the Lithuanian-Polish frontier, between Belarus in the east and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad to the west, Western military planners warn the area would likely be one of the Russian president’s first targets were he ever to choose to escalate the war in Ukraine into a kinetic confrontation with NATO.”

($) Erdogan Is Hung Up on the Power One Kurdish Woman Has in Sweden. “Amineh Kakabaveh’s journey from Peshmerga fighter to Kurdish refugee and then Swedish lawmaker has thrust her into her adopted homeland’s standoff with Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is holding up Sweden’s application to join the NATO alliance, saying it harbors “terrorists” — his catch-all label for those with links to Kurdish militancy — and he’s hinted at Kakabaveh’s influence as a particular problem.”. Just an amazing story by Amineh

Stats

Edmunds reported that the average price of an EV exceeded $60,000

Since November 2021, more than $2 trillion in cryptocurrency value has evaporated

Covid vaccines saved 20 million lives in the first year

TikTok had $4 billion in revenue in 2021. Its US-based users spent on average 29 hours on the platform, compared to 16 hours on Facebook and 8 on Instagram

Source: IMF

Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade and took away rights to abortion

Today, the Supreme Court overturned a long-standing precedent in Roe v Wade and outlawed abortion. The Court’s opinions were leaked a while ago, but when the news broke, it’s still as devastating.

When I was younger, I used to mistakenly think that the Founders were so brilliant that the Constitution stood the test of time with few changes. “How could they think THAT far ahead?”, I naively thought. The truth is that the more time I spend in the US, the more I realize that they did NOT think that far ahead. They did what they could and it’s nobody’s fault that they couldn’t foresee what happens almost 250 years later. How could they foresee the radicalization in ideologies that plague our society nowadays? How could they foresee a society where it’s more of a hobby to own a gun than a necessity and where guns kill children far too often than anyone could imagine? How could they foresee a society where women are NOT second-class citizens and they have rights to their bodies?

I understand that opinions on gun control and abortion vary significantly across the US. But in a democracy, the policies should reflect the will of the majority. The fact of the matter is that the majority of Americans support abortion and think it should be legal, at least to some extent. By declaring that the Constitution doesn’t automatically give citizens the rights to abortion, the Court allows states with draconian policies to dictate what women CANNOT do in any circumstances. How can we call this a democracy when the will of the majority is cruelly ignored?

A few days ago, the Supreme Court allowed open carry in the state of New York, citing the 2nd Amendment. Here is what the 2nd Amendment says

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Since we tend to scrutinize every word in the Constitution, let’s look at the two key phrases: well regulated Militia and the right. America is the lone outlier among developed countries when it comes to gun homicide. And not for a good reason. It’s unthinkable how many mass shootings we have in the country. It’s even less fathomable to imagine teenagers that are not old enough to drink yet are old enough to buy military grade and kill kids at school. Does that sound like well regulated to you? Furthermore, if the Amendment itself includes the word “regulate”, more regulations on gun control do NOT mean the infringement of the rights. We have the right to express ourselves, yet we have a bunch of laws that dictate what we can or cannot do. Then how is it that we are more gung-ho on this gun control issue more than we are on others? Nobody ever proposed that we don’t have the right to bear arms. It’s just that we have the responsibility to make sure arms are in the right hands.

Why do I mention gun control? To demonstrate the head-spinning reality in the US. We allow open carry in public, discarding the risk to human life, yet we outlaw abortion because we want to protect fetus. It doesn’t sound logical to me. It doesn’t sound like a society well-run by the rule of law and common sense. It sure doesn’t sound like something worthy of the Greatest Country status.

As disappointed as I am today, I am more fearful for what is coming next. Appointments to the highest Court in the land are life-time. These judges are here to stay. Their ideologies are here to stay. For citizens to moot this kind of opinions from the Court, there must be codified laws. Unfortunately, Congress is as broken as they come. Given that Republicans are all but guaranteed to win back the House, the Senate and likely the White House as well, chances of new meaningful and reasonable laws to protect citizens’ rights and safety are as slim as none.

Below are some of the notes I took from reading the opinion of the dissenting Justices

The lone rationale for what the majority does today is that the right to elect an abortion is not “deeply rooted in history”: Not until Roe, the majority argues, did people think abortion fell within the Constitution’s guarantee of liberty. The same could be said, though, of most of the rights the majority claims it is not tampering with. The majority could write just as long an opinion showing, for example, that until the mid-20th century, “there was no support in American law for a constitutional right to obtain [contraceptives].” So one of two things must be true. Either the majority does not really believe in its own reasoning. Or if it does, all rights that have no history stretching back to the mid- 19th century are insecure. Either the mass of the majority’s opinion is hypocrisy, or additional constitutional rights are under threat. It is one or the other.

Source: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/19-1392_6j37.pdf

The Court knew that Americans hold profoundly different views about the “moral[ity]” of “terminating a pregnancy, even in its earliest stage.” And the Court recognized that “the State has legitimate interests from the outset of the preg- nancy in protecting” the “life of the fetus that may become a child.” So the Court struck a balance, as it often does when values and goals compete. It held that the State could prohibit abortions after fetal viability, so long as the ban contained exceptions to safeguard a woman’s life or health. It held that even before viability, the State could regulate the abortion procedure in multiple and meaningful ways. But until the viability line was crossed, the Court held, a State could not impose a “substantial obstacle” on a woman’s “right to elect the procedure” as she (not the government) thought proper, in light of all the circumstances and complexities of her own life.

Today, the Court discards that balance. It says that from the very moment of fertilization, a woman has no rights to speak of. A State can force her to bring a pregnancy to term, even at the steepest personal and familial costs. Some States have enacted laws extending to all forms of abortion procedure, including taking medication in one’s own home. They have passed laws without any exceptions for when the woman is the victim of rape or incest. Under those laws, a woman will have to bear her rapist’s child or a young girl her father’s—no matter if doing so will destroy her life.

Source: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/19-1392_6j37.pdf

The majority’s core legal postulate, then, is that we in the 21st century must read the Fourteenth Amendment just as its ratifiers did. And that is indeed what the majority emphasizes over and over again. If the ratifiers did not understand something as central to freedom, then neither can we. Or said more particularly: If those people did not understand reproductive rights as part of the guarantee of liberty conferred in the Fourteenth Amendment, then those rights do not exist.

As an initial matter, note a mistake in the just preceding sentence. We referred there to the “people” who ratified the Fourteenth Amendment: What rights did those “people” have in their heads at the time? But, of course, “people” did not ratify the Fourteenth Amendment. Men did. So it is perhaps not so surprising that the ratifiers were not perfectly attuned to the importance of reproductive rights for women’s liberty, or for their capacity to participate as equal members of our Nation. Indeed, the ratifiers—both in 1868 and when the original Constitution was approved in 1788 did not understand women as full members of the community embraced by the phrase “We the People.” In 1868, the first wave of American feminists were explicitly told—of course by men—that it was not their time to seek constitutional protections. (Women would not get even the vote for another half-century.) To be sure, most women in 1868 also had a foreshortened view of their rights: If most men could not then imagine giving women control over their bodies, most women could not imagine having that kind of auton- omy. But that takes away nothing from the core point. Those responsible for the original Constitution, including the Fourteenth Amendment, did not perceive women as equals, and did not recognize women’s rights. When the majority says that we must read our foundational charter as viewed at the time of ratification (except that we may also check it against the Dark Ages), it consigns women to second-class citizenship.

Source: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/19-1392_6j37.pdf

Stare decisis also “contributes to the integrity of our constitutional system of government” by ensuring that decisions “are founded in the law rather than in the proclivities of individuals.” As Hamilton wrote: It “avoid[s] an arbitrary discretion in the courts.” And as Blackstone said before him: It “keep[s] the scale of justice even and steady, and not liable to waver with every new judge’s opinion.”

So how does that approach prevent the “scale of justice” from “waver[ing] with every new judge’s opinion”? It does not. It makes radical change too easy and too fast, based on nothing more than the new views of new judges. The majority has overruled Roe and Casey for one and only one reason: because it has always despised them, and now it has the votes to discard them. The majority thereby substitutes a rule by judges for the rule of law.

Supreme Court’s role in immunity for the police – the importance of voting for democracy, not partisanship

How Supreme Court puts its thumb on the scale to seemingly savor the police

Qualified immunity is a legal protection granted by Supreme Court to shield government employees from frivolous lawsuits. In the case of the police which can exercise lethal forces upon citizens, the implications of qualified immunity can be profound. While it’s legitimate to offer police officers latitude in doing their job, qualified immunity can also be overused as a protection from misdemeanors. In this article, Reuters looked into how Supreme Court sided with the police in case involving use of excessive force. I highly recommend that you read the article. Some highlights that I think are important are as follows

In a dissent to a 2018 ruling, Sotomayor, joined by fellow liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote that the majority’s decision favoring the cops tells police that “they can shoot first and think later, and it tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished.”

In that case, Kisela v. Hughes, the justices threw out a lower court’s ruling that denied immunity to a Tucson, Arizona, cop who shot a mentally ill woman four times as she walked down her driveway while holding a large kitchen knife.

A year earlier, Sotomayor in another dissent called out her fellow justices for a “disturbing trend” of favoring police. “We have not hesitated to summarily reverse courts for wrongly denying officers the protection of qualified immunity,” Sotomayor wrote, citing several recent rulings. “But we rarely intervene where courts wrongly afford officers the benefit of qualified immunity.”

Source: Reuters

The main challenge for plaintiffs in excessive force cases is to show that police behavior violated a “clearly established” precedent. The Supreme Court has continually reinforced a narrow definition of “clearly established,” requiring lower courts to accept as precedent only cases that have detailed circumstances very similar to the case they are weighing.

In February, the federal appeals court in Cincinnati, Ohio, granted immunity to an officer who shot and wounded a 14-year-old boy in the shoulder after the boy dropped a BB gun and raised his hands. The court rejected as a precedent a 2011 case in which an officer shot and killed a man as he began lowering a shotgun. The difference between the incidents was too great, the court determined, because the boy had first drawn the BB gun from his waistband before dropping it.

In other recent cases, courts have sided with police because of the difference between subduing a woman for walking away from an officer, and subduing a woman for refusing to end a phone call; between shooting at a dog and instead hitting a child, and shooting at a truck and hitting a passenger; and between unleashing a police dog to bite a motionless suspect in a bushy ravine, and unleashing a police dog to bite a compliant suspect in a canal in the woods.

The Supreme Court in 2009 raised the bar even higher for plaintiffs to overcome qualified immunity. In Pearson v. Callahan, it gave judges the option to simply ignore the question of whether a cop used excessive force and instead focus solely on whether the conduct was clearly established as unlawful.

By allowing judges to consider only the question of clearly established law in excessive force cases, the Supreme Court created a closed loop in which “the case law gets frozen,” said lawyer Matt Farmer, who represented Lewis’s family.

Source: Reuters

I am not sure I know of situations where the odds are stacked against citizens more. Citizens, in general, do not possess weapons or resources to self-defend against authority which, ironically, is supposed to protect citizens in the first place. In cases where abuse of power is apparent, the laws, as you already see, are not on citizens’ side, either. It’s obviously a disturbing phenomenon to witness. One must wonder whether this qualified immunity and the Supreme Court’s tendency to rule in favor of the police contributes to the abuse of power and excessive use of force.

Vote. Vote. Vote. On every level.

Former President Obama penned a thoughtful blog post detailing his opinion on how the country can move forward from the current crisis. You can read it here

Second, I’ve heard some suggest that the recurrent problem of racial bias in our criminal justice system proves that only protests and direct action can bring about change, and that voting and participation in electoral politics is a waste of time. I couldn’t disagree more. The point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable; in fact, throughout American history, it’s often only been in response to protests and civil disobedience that the political system has even paid attention to marginalized communities. But eventually, aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices— and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect government officials who are responsive to our demands.

Source: Barack Obama

Unfortunately, voter turnout in these local races is usually pitifully low, especially among young people — which makes no sense given the direct impact these offices have on social justice issues, not to mention the fact that who wins and who loses those seats is often determined by just a few thousand, or even a few hundred, votes.

So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.

Finally, the more specific we can make demands for criminal justice and police reform, the harder it will be for elected officials to just offer lip service to the cause and then fall back into business as usual once protests have gone away

Source: Barack Obama

The former President said it better than I think I can. So, vote whenever you can because our life depends on your votes a lot. It’s the most powerful weapon you can have in a democracy. What I really hate is that some folks relinquish their voting duty because their “guy or gal” isn’t a candidate or there is only one or two issues that they disagree with their candidate.

Vote for democracy, not partisanship

A study published on Cambridge Press examined whether Americans were willing to trade democracy for partisanship in voting.

…in states and districts where one party enjoys a significant electoral advantage, politicians from the majority party may be effectively insulated from an electoral punishment for violating democratic principles. To get a sense of the real-world relevance of this implication, consider that in 2016 only 5.1% of US House districts were won by a margin of less than 6.9%—the smallest margin that Table 4 implies is necessary for violations of democratic principles to be electorally self-defeating. That share of districts was still only 15.2% in 2018. Put bluntly, our estimates suggest that in the vast majority of U.S. House districts, a majority-party candidate could openly violate one of the democratic principles we examined and nonetheless get away with it.

Source: Cambridge Press

Our analysis of a candidate-choice experiment as well as a natural experiment consistently found that only a small fraction of Americans prioritize democratic principles in their electoral choices when doing so goes against their partisan identification or favorite policies. We proposed that this is the consequence of two mechanisms: (i) voters are willing to trade off democratic principles for partisan ends and (ii) voters employ a partisan “double standard” when punishing candidates who violate democratic principles. These tendencies were exacerbated by several types of polarization, including intense partisanship, extreme policy preferences, and divergence in candidate platforms. Put simply, polarization undermines the public’s ability to serve as a democratic check.

We conclude by discussing the implications of these findings for our understanding of democratic stability in the United States and the rest of the world. We saw that roughly 10–13% of our respondents—depending on the type of contests considered—value democracy enough to punish otherwise favored candidates for violating democratic principles by voting against them

Source: Cambridge Press

What does that mean? In my opinion, if voters were more willing to cross the partisanship line and vote for a person of a different party, it means that the partisanship and the divide within the country would be less severe. Lawmakers would be forced to be more accountable and to offer bipartisan legislations. The world is too diverse and lively for any of us to stubbornly stick to a rigid ideology. If one party is too egregious and the other party’s candidate shares more values with you, you should vote on shared human values, not partisan ideologies or “stick it to somebody else”.

Weekly readings – 25th April 2020

IEEE has an article outlining the role of mainframes even before the crisis. I am always of opinion that mainframes aren’t going anywhere soon. The legacy system has its strengths that work in favor for data-processing companies such as financial institutions. I had a professor in Omaha before who was an executive at Mutual of Omaha. He told me in 2018 that one of the important applications at the insurance company is still on mainframe and they fly periodically a mainframe developer from Chicago for maintenance work.

In the last 70 years, the physical size of Kansas City has quadrupled while the population has remained relatively stable. (Put another way, every resident of Kansas City is on the hook for maintaining four times as much of the city as his or her predecessors.)

Source: We’ve Built Cities We Can’t Afford

Everyone is baking — and entrepreneurs are rising up to meet the demand

Uber’s Paid Sick Leave Policy Is a Perpetually Moving Goal Post

Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro: A New Breed of Laptop

Bloomberg’s story on AirBnb and the state of the known startup

Gruber’s review of iPhone SE

A report by WSJ on how Amazon allegedly uses merchants’ data to launch its own private labels. There is nothing wrong with Amazon launching private labels. The problem is that the company vehemently denied using merchants’ data to help it do so

A decision by Supreme Court that can prove to be defining in the future. I understand the logic behind deporting folks who committed crimes. What concerns me here is that the process didn’t take into account the recent behavior.

A damning report on Bird. I haven’t been a fan of the company or products. I get its value proposition, but coming from a country where scooters are the primary transportation method, I am as enthusiastic about Bird scooters as others. Plus, the high valuation in a short period of time, despite an unproven unit economics, always feels wrong to me.