Numlock News: November 28, 2018

By Walt Hickey

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Not Really In The Black Friday Spirit This Year

The latest figures from the National Retail Federation report that 165 million Americans shopped in-store or online on the five-day period between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. That’s down from 174 million last year. People spent less as well: the average American shopper spent $313 over the five-day weekend, down from $335 last year. This isn’t necessarily a bad sign for retail broadly, it just shows that people are starting to realize you are allowed to shop before and also slightly after the five-day Sack of Best Buy.

Hema Parmar and Jonathan Roeder, Bloomberg

Post Office Users

The latest hot startup to suffer a devastating privacy breach is a fascinating new unicorn out of Washington, D.C. called “the post office.” Yes, the delivery startup USPS — backed by a boutique venture capital firm called The Treasury — seeks to be GrubHub, but for mail. Real talk, 60 million users of USPS service InformedDelivery may have had information exposed through a vulnerability which would allow malicious actors to see what mail is arriving at users’ homes on which day.

John Biggs, TechCrunch

Imports

Foreign firearm companies are obsessed with the deregulated and enormous market for firearms in the United States. In 2016, 31 percent of all guns made for the American market — 5.1 million weapons — came from abroad. As the rest of the world adapts sensible gun regulation or even the most routine checks on people’s ability to stockpile armories, America remains a massive business for firearm companies. Croatian gun manufacturer, HS-produkt, exported 95 percent of the firearms it made last year to the United States. Austria is the largest exporter thanks to Glock and sent 1.2 million guns to the U.S. in 2016.

Polly Mosendz, Paul Barrett and Mira Rojanasakul, Bloomberg

Purged

A new paper takes a data-driven look at a purported anti-corruption purge carried out by the Chinese Communist Party under President Xi Jinping. The probe took out not only low-level officials, but also several high-ranked officials considered Xi’s rivals, leading some to wonder whether it was a bona fide corruption sweep or more of a targeted attack. The paper looks at social networks to find a number of fascinating things: namely, officials in the areas with the most corruption did, in fact, get targeted at a higher rate; there was lots of legitimate anti-corruption work against high-ranking officials; and it did mostly spare innocent people from the dragnet. But, Xi’s own personal associates and friends were completely spared. Of 322 top provincial officials, none with personal ties to Xi Jinping were arrested. Maybe he kept his buddies safe, maybe he has impeccable taste in people, who can say?

Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing, and Peter Lorentzen and Xi Lu

American-German Relations

Very, very few polls have straight up delighted me as much as this one by so perfectly summing up the attitudes of different groups of people. When asked to describe the current state of relations between the United States and Germany, 70 percent of Americans said good to 25 percent who said bad. On the other hand, 73 percent of Germans said the relationship was bad to 24 percent good. That Americans would take on a, shall we say, “rosier” or “aspirational” or maybe just “diplomatically naive” view of a recently turbulent relationship, while German respondents react with a frank and honest disappointment in the pessimistic turn taken by the United States toward the broader Western alliance is pretty true-to-form for all parties.

Richard Connor, DW

Charity

In 2017, 36 million U.S. households benefited from the charitable deduction on their federal income taxes. Looking at households in the 90th to 95th income percentiles, 92 percent benefited from it. But a raised standard deduction and reduced state and local tax deduction means that more and more taxpayers won’t benefit from a taxation prospective from philanthropy. In 2018, only 15 million households will benefit from the deduction and only 67 percent of households in the 90th to 95th percentiles will claim the tax break. And while many people still aid charity regardless of the tax implications, the changes are expected to wipe out $15 billion in giving for a drop of 5 percent.

Richard Rubin, The Wall Street Journal

Reviews for Cryptocurrencies

There are now at least 2,094 unique cryptocurrencies and lots of dumb money wants to play that lottery and needs to know where to throw that dough. To help them, lots of crypto reviewers, personalities and presenters are here to direct them to only the most viable and promising investments. Unless they have been bribed, which is hella common. For instance, crypto company Hacken reached out to 200 such social media figures and paid one $7,500 to hype it up on his 500,000 subscriber YouTube channel without disclosure and while suggesting four-figure returns. Within four days, their coin was up 14 percent to $1.54 per coin. Since that under-the-table boost, the coin has since fallen over 75 percent to 36 cents.

Anna Irrera and Elizabeth Dilts, Reuters

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