Numlock News: February 3, 2021 • Rhinos, Dave Thomas Circle, Help

By Walt Hickey

Amazon

In the biggest Amazon news of the day, the Federal Trade Commission ordered that Amazon must pay $61,719,583 to Amazon Flex drivers after stealing a third of the drivers’ tips prior to 2019. When it launched the program in 2016, Amazon said that drivers would receive 100 percent of their tips, and would be paid $18 to $25 an hour. The FTC said that shortly afterward the company cut their hourly base pay in 2016 and used the consumer tips to make up the difference. The rate change was only finally disclosed in 2019.

Lauren Kaori Gurley, Vice and Katherine Khashimova Long, The Seattle Times

Dave Thomas Circle

Washington D.C. was designed by Pierre Charles L'Enfant to be a difficult-to-traverse, intersection-rich metropolis, but one infamous traffic pattern in the city greets anyone attempting to enter the city through the northeast. It’s an intersection of New York and Florida Avenues and First Street NE, but the most important part is the inexplicable Wendy’s directly in the center of a triangular improvised traffic circle. After years of controversy — the Wendy’s is a bit of a lightning rod, as some argue it’s important to keep the restaurant around, while others argue that it’s dangerous and the middle of a crucial thoroughfare could be put to better civil use than slinging Baconators — a declaration filed in the D.C. Superior Court has the city using eminent domain to acquire the property for $13.1 million. The plan to redo the intersection will entail a bike lane, adding three new public parks and adding two-way traffic to First Street. I guarantee the site will still smell like fry oil in three decades.

Luz Lazo and Dana Hedgpeth, The Washington Post

Rhinos

Over the past decade the number of rhinos in Kruger National Park in South Africa has declined 70 percent, owing mostly to poaching and the ripple effects on breeding from that illegal hunting. As it stands, there are just 3,549 white rhinos and 268 black rhinos in Kruger, down from the combined 10,000 in 2010. There are only about 18,000 on Earth, and with 30 percent of the global population of rhinos in one park and seeing a steep population collapse, that’s a bad situation. There’s been some progress made — 800 rhinos were killed in 2014, and the period since has seen those annual numbers halved — but it’s not like there’s a lot of numbers to work with here. Between 2018 and 2019, poaching in South African parks declined 21.6 percent owing to new targeted surveillance technology.

Dina Fine Maron, National Geographic

Bankruptcies

Despite sky-high unemployment, the closure of bankruptcy courts in 2020 meant that overall annual filings of bankruptcy in the United States decreased 29.7 percent, with 544,463 filings compared to 774,940 in 2019. Sadly, filings of bankruptcy tend to be more of a lagging indicator of economic distress than a leading one: during the Great Recession, new filings peaked in 2010, several years after the beginning in 2007. Still, that’s the fewest bankruptcy filings since 1986.

Calculated Risk

3G

The major consumer telecom networks are phasing out their 3G service, hoping to scrap those slower offerings and use the block of wireless spectrum towards newer 5G offerings. Still, that transition stands to strand lots of Americans without wireless. As of 2019, 9 percent of U.S. subscribers used 3G, most often out of a lack of better options in rural areas, but sometimes due to the costs of new smartphones and the pricey fees that accompany better access. 3G came out in 2001, so it’s nearly two decades old at this point, and is about 500 times slower than 4G.

Hannah Frishberg, OneZero

Help

The gigantic appropriations act passed at the end of December to fund the U.S. government and a suite of pandemic relief measures has been slow in rollout due to a delay in the signing of the bill until December 27, rather than the original delivery date of December 24. Given that it was not signed before December 26, all of the pandemic benefits coverage lapsed, and as a result people were already being transitioned off of assistance, and all sorts of people had to re-apply to get the benefits they qualified for. The result? A quarter of states have not resumed paying out aid, 12 states took three weeks to resume PUA benefits and 15 needed three weeks to restart extended benefits for long-term unemployed people. The estimated cost of this was $17.6 billion not paid out to jobless Americans in January 2021, a 38 percent cut, all because of dithering in the signing of the bill.

Ellie Kaverman and Andrew Stettner, The Century Foundation

CO2

A new study published in the journal Nature Communications provides evidence that 48 cities in the United States are under-counting carbon dioxide pollution by 20 percent. This would put the overall difference between the 48 cities’ estimates and the new estimate at 70 million tons of carbon dioxide, which is about as much as the entirety of Massachusetts emits. Were this to be extrapolated across the country to cities beyond those specifically explored, that’s 474 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, more than California emitted in 2015 by 24 percent.

Eric Roston, Bloomberg

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