How to Fight Corruption With Game Theory – Mark McKinnon 11.29.14

A brilliant Silicon Valley entrepreneur may have found a way to get dark money out of politics without changing any laws.

J.R. Bale/Alamy

Asking Congress to reform money in politics is like asking professional athletes to reform the use of performance enhancing drugs and painkillers.

That is, it’s unlikely to happen, because money and drugs make candidates and athletes more competitive and, therefore, more likely to keep their jobs. It’s all about self-preservation.

The Citizens United ruling from the Supreme Court, which opened the money floodgates by allowing for unlimited spending by outside groups, also assumed that the source of the money being spent would be transparent and disclosed. In fact, a main tenet of the Citizens United ruling, with which eight out of the nine justices concurred, is that “transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”

Of course, spending in our elections is far from transparent. Over $200 million was spent this last cycle by groups receiving money from secret donors. And Congress can’t even pass a simple disclosure bill.

Fortunately, as is often the case when government fails to respond, individuals from the private sector are stepping up with innovative solutions.

Take Jim Greer. Greer is a young, entrepreneurial, poker-loving Texan who ended up in Silicon Valley. He’s a game theory guy. And brilliant. He started and sold a company, Kongregate, which left him with a little more time and a lot more money.

Greer loves politics, but hates the corrupting influence of money on the system. So he and his partner, Zack Simpson, did what they do so well: started spit-balling some game theory around politics.

What the two men saw is that just as in the private sector, decision-making in politics is driven by incentives—that is, the positive or negative results that the decision-maker expects to come from a particular course of action. In Greer and Simpson’s estimation, our dysfunctional politics are really just a symptom of an incentive structure gone awry.

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Mubarak’s Acquittal Signals Complete Triumph of Military Over Arab Spring – Jamie Dettmer 11.29.14

Mohamed El-Shahed/Getty

Verdict leaves supporters cheering and opponents gnashing their teeth in frustration. Make no mistake: Egypt’s oppressive “deep state” is back.

Almost four years after former dictator Hosni Mubarak was swept from power, a court dismissed charges against him in the killing of more than 200 protesters during the 2011 popular uprising that ended his three-decade rule. The Cairo courtroom where the decision was announced was packed with his supporters and they erupted in cheers, but outside his opponents bewailed a decision they say marks the apogee of a counter-revolution supervised by the deposed strongman’s onetime head of military intelligence: Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, elected the country’s president in May.

The ruling also cleared Mubarak along with his sons, Alaa and Gamal, of corruption charges relating to the sale of gas to Israel. And in a clean sweep marking what Egyptian democracy activists say emphasizes the comeback of the “deep state” of the Mubarak era, the court acquitted a former interior minister and six top security chiefs of conspiring to murder protesters in an Arab Spring uprising that saw more than 800 protesters killed and at least 2000 injured.

The judge overseeing the case, Mahmoud Kamel al-Rashidi, said the charges against the ailing 86-year-old Mubarak—he was accused of “inciting, arranging and assisting to kill peaceful protesters”—were politically motivated and that his conviction in June 2012 was flawed. He also cited several other technicalities. Shortly after the charges were dismissed, Mubarak’s chief lawyer was photographed lighting up a cigar. The country’s chief prosecutor says he will appeal the decision.

Othman al-Hefnawy, a lawyer representing families of those who died, said the verdict raises the question: if Mubarak and his aides weren’t responsible for protesters’ deaths, then who was?

The retrial of a case that had resulted in Mubarak and his co-conspirators receiving life sentences was ordered by an appeals court last year on a technicality. Today’s decision—it is recorded in a 1,400-page ruling—wasn’t unexpected. “Mubarak’s acquittal was about as surprising as Sisi becoming President,” tweeted Arab Spring activist Iyad El-Baghdadi.

Crowd investing: Could you be backing the next Google? – By Matthew Wall November 2014 Last updated at 19:34 ET

Investing often used to seem like a closed shop – the preserve of a wealthy, privileged elite keeping business opportunities all to itself.

Now technology has blown open the doors and given everyone – not just the professional investors and big institutions – a chance to get a piece of the action.

Would-be Warren Buffetts can go online and buy shares in start-ups and early stage companies for as little as £10.

But while there’s a chance you could be backing the next Google, Apple, or Facebook, there’s also a strong risk you could end up losing all your money.

This is the world of crowd investing, also known as equity crowdfunding.

The difference with other forms of crowdfunding is that you’re not lending money in return for interest on the loan, or donating money in return for rewards and perks, you’re actually buying a slice of the company.

Typically, firms seeking a cash injection upload their business plans, including how much they’re hoping to raise and how much of their business they’re prepared to sell and at what price.

Think of it like an online Dragons’ Den involving hundreds of investors rather than a handful of Dragons.

If the companies don’t reach their funding targets, they get nothing.

It has been increasing in popularity as confidence in online financial transactions has grown and financial regulators around the world have begun to relax rules governing who can invest.

Online platforms such as Crowdcube, Seedrs, InvestingZone and SyndicateRoom in the UK, and Crowdfunder and CircleUp in the US, have been successfully matching investors with companies looking for funding.

According to innovation charity Nesta, nearly 30 UK equity crowdfunding platforms have raised approaching £100m so far, but this young market is experiencing “a 201% year-on-year growth rate”.

In the US, where investment is still restricted to high-net-worth individuals or “accredited investors”, research company Massolution estimates the crowdfunding market as a whole to be worth more than $5bn (£3bn).

Wealthy “angel” investors are also taking their networks online – AngelsDen, for example – and encouraging smaller investors to join in.


“We felt passionate about the democratisation of investment,” says Luke Lang, co-founder of Crowdcube, an equity crowdfunding platform launched in 2011.

“We wanted to open things up to ordinary people – investing was too elitist.”

Crowdcube’s 100,000-plus registered investors have successfully invested £45m in 160 businesses so far. While the typical investment is £3,000, amounts committed range from £10 to £400,000, he says.

“We tapped into a real appetite from the great British public to back and support British businesses. We’ve been able to make investing more accessible and affordable.”

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Catholic Geopolitics | Foreign Affairs – By Victor Gaetan NOVEMBER 28, 2014

In the last few days of November, Pope Francis will use a visit to Turkey to advance two goals: winning greater protection for Christians in the Middle East and drawing the Catholic and Orthodox Churches closer together. Neither is new; Pope Benedict XVI was in Istanbul eight years ago with a similar agenda and near identical itinerary. But the wars in Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine have make Francis’ mission more urgent than ever.

Pope Francis and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan walk in front of honor guard at the presidential palace in Ankara, November 28, 2014. (Tony Gentile / Courtesy Reuters)


Turkey has never had a large Catholic population, but the country looms large in Church history. Catholics believe that Jesus’ mother, Mary, died in Ephesus (Selçuk today). Turkey is also the birthplace of St. Paul, whose missionary journeys in Asia Minor and subsequent letters to new Christian communities comprise several New Testament books. Further, the Book of Revelation was composed on the Aegean island of Patmos, off the Turkish coast. Turkey is also one of the Vatican’s oldest formal bilateral relationships: The Vatican and Turkey established diplomatic relations in 1868, more than 100 years before the United Kingdom (1982), the United States (1984), and Mexico (1992).

The relationship hasn’t always been easy. When he took power in Turkey in the early 1920s, Kemal Ataturk created a radically anti-religious regime. The state confiscated church property, banned religious garb, prohibited the public display of religious symbols, and made Muslim imams public employees. Even so, the Catholic archbishop, Angelo Roncalli, dutifully represented the Vatican in Turkey between 1934 and 1944, and his humility and respect for Turkish culture made him a popular, effective diplomat.

He spoke fluent Turkish, allowed Turkish to be used in Church ceremonies and documents, and openly admired Muslim devotion to prayer. He reached out to the Orthodox Church when a massive population exchange sent more than one million Greeks, many of whom had been living in Turkey for centuries, to Greece. During World War II, Roncalli used his position to help Jews fleeing Hitler get to Palestine through Turkey.

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Americans Rushed To Purchase Guns This Black Friday – by Igor Volsky Posted on November 29, 2014 at 10:42 am Updated: November 29, 2014 at 11:25 am

The FBI processed three background checks for gun purchases every second on Friday, as more than 144,000 shoppers were expected to buy firearms on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.


CREDIT: Shutterstock

As of 2 p.m. Friday, an FBI spokesperson told CNN that the agency had already processed “more than 94,000 transactions, on pace to surpass last year’s 144,758.” Approximately 3,000 checks or 2 percent will not be completed as a result of insufficient information, 71 receive instant approvals, and approximately 1.1 percent of purchasers fail the check. If the government cannot complete the background check in three business days, the buyer is allowed to purchase the gun anyway.

“The challenge is to have staff keep up with this volume. We do that by limiting personal leave, asking employees to work extra shifts and reutilizing former … employees to serve in NICS during this busy period,” spokesman Stephen Fischer told CNN. Since 1999, the pace of background checks has doubled and the FBI has completed 21 million background checks.

U.S. law prohibits individuals with “felony conviction, arrest warrant, documented drug problem, mental illness, undocumented immigration status, dishonorable military discharge, renunciation of U.S. citizenship, restraining order, history of domestic violence or indictment for any crime punishable by longer than one year of prison” from purchasing weapons at licensed dealers.

However, the system is far from perfect, as some states don’t feed enough real-time information into the criminal background check system, allowing individuals with troubled mental health histories or criminal records to pass checks and purchase weapons. Gun sales on the internet or at gun shows are also unregulated and do not require an FBI background examination.

The Associated Press estimates that in the U.S., “there are already nine guns for every 10 people, and someone is killed with a firearm every 16 minutes.”

Ray Rice Can Play in the NFL Again. Will Anyone Sign Him? – By Daniel Politi NOV. 28 2014 11:51 PM

Ray Rice addresses a news conference on May 23, 2014 in Owings Mills, Maryland Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Ray Rice addresses a news conference on May 23, 2014 in Owings Mills, Maryland
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Ray Rice can play in the NFL again. An arbitrator reinstated the former Baltimore Ravens running back, apparently agreeing with Rice that his indefinite suspension was “arbitrary” and that he had been penalized twice for the same offence. Former U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones ultimately concluded that Commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision to change Rice’s suspension from two games to indefinite after video emerged of him hitting his wife in an elevator amounted to an “abuse of discretion,” reports the Associated Press.

At the heart of the decision was Jones’ view that Rice never misrepresented or lied about what happened so he shouldn’t have been awarded a harsher punishment after the shocking video emerged. “In short, I do not find that Rice minimized casually what happened that night,” Judge Jones wrote. “I do not doubt that viewing the video in September evoked horror in Commissioner Goodell, as it did with the public,” Jones wrote, according to the New York Times. “But this does not change the fact that Rice did not lie or mislead the N.F.L. at the June 16 meeting.” The NFL Players Association hailed the decision as a “victory for a disciplinary process that is fair and transparent.”

Even though the decision marks a clear victory for Rice, just because he can play in the NFL does not mean that anyone will sign him. Although “some NFL teams have been receptive to Rice … his retrun remains a tough sell,” according to the Baltimore Sun. First, teams are likely to be concerned that signing Rice could lead to a negative reaction from the public at large. Plus, Rice is no longer seen as the formidable player he once was. USA Todayexplains:

The film of Rice from last season showed a player who had lost some of his explosion, who struggled to break tackles and averaged just 3.1 yards per carry. Rice’s 660 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games were his lowest totals since he became a starter in 2009.

That decreased production and questions about if he can return to form might be a bigger issue for teams than Rice’s off-field transgression.

“We respect Judge Jones’s decision to reinstate Ray Rice from his indefinite suspension for violating the league’s Personal Conduct Policy in an incident of domestic violence,” The NFL said in a statement. “Ray Rice is a free agent and has been eligible to be signed by an NFL team since he was released by the Ravens.”

Rice is scheduled to go on a charm offensive to try to win over some sympathy. NBC’s Today will be airing interviews of Rice and his wife on Monday and Tuesday.