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Ohio Train Derailment Renews Worries Over Safety Standards, Corporate Influence



Experts say that the derailment is an unsurprising outcome of a profit-maximizing operational model utilized by most rail companies paired with industry lobbying against federal safety rules.

A Precarious Model

Concerns about railroad safety regulations have been reignited recently following the derailment of a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio, forcing officials to do a “controlled” burn to prevent a more dangerous explosion.  

Specifically, debates about the profit-maximizing operational model called Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) that most of the rail industry uses have again drawn scrutiny. The idea behind PSR is basically for operators to do more with less in order to maximize revenues by driving down operating expenses.

To do this, PSR emphasizes running strict schedules, streamlining routes, and cutting costs, equipment, and employees. Experts say that, in theory, PSR increases efficiency while lowering costs.

In reality, rail operators have so much market power, so instead of doing more with less, they are able to do less with less.

As a result, rail carrier companies are essentially incentivized to spend less money on rail operations and more stock buybacks or dividends to measure success in the eyes of Wall Street.

Under the PSR model, the railroad workforce has been totally gutted, the workers that remain are overworked to point of exhaustion, and safety precautions have been sacrificed for profits. This matter was also discussed heavily in the public forum last fall, as was at the heart of the railroad strike that was narrowly averted at the end of last year.

Among other demands, the 12 unions involved in negotiations had asked for better working conditions as well as more flexible schedules for things like medical appointments — benefits that were denied as the result of a model that encourages railroads to do less with less. 

That has been exemplified by Norfolk Southern — which operates the train that derailed in Ohio. The carrier has continually increased its dividend, and last March, it announced a $10 billion stock buyback program while simultaneously refusing to give workers basic benefits like fair pay and sick leave.

The company also reported record-breaking operating revenues totaling $12.7 billion last year.

Railroad Workers Blame PSR for Ohio Derailment

In a recent press release, the Railroad Workers United (RWU), an inter-union alliance of rail workers, argued that the Ohio derailment was just a predictable outcome of a system operated by PSR. In fact, RWU went as far as to explicitly claim that “the root causes of this wreck” were “associated with the hedge fund initiated operating model known as [PSR].” 

The group noted that, as investigators have said, the “immediate cause” of the wreck “appears to have been a 19th-century-style mechanical failure of the axle on one of the cars.”

“There is no way in the 21st century, save from a combination of incompetence and disregard to public safety, that such a defect should still be threatening our communities,” the statement continued. 

RWU stated that the profit-incentivizing created by PSR “has made cutting costs, employees, procedures, and resources the top priority.” 

The group said that Norfolk Southern and other carriers “have eliminated many of the critical mechanical positions and locations necessary to guarantee protection against these kinds of failures” while also petitioning regulators “for relief from historically required maintenance and inspections.”

“The [East] Palestine wreck is the tip of the iceberg and a red flag,” RWU Secretary Ron Kaminkow told The Guardian. “If something is not done, then it’s going to get worse, and the next derailment could be cataclysmic.”

Corporate Influence on Federal Regulations

Beyond the internal systems used by rail carriers, the powerful groups have also had a significant influence on the federal rules that regulate their industry.

According to documents reviewed in a report by The Lever, Norfolk Southern “helped kill” a federal rule that intended to upgrade rail braking systems for trains carrying hazardous materials. 

Beyond that, when the transportation safety regulations in place today were first created, “a federal agency sided with industry lobbyists and limited regulations governing the transport of hazardous compounds.”

“The decision effectively exempted many trains hauling dangerous materials — including the one in Ohio — from the ‘high-hazard’ classification and its more stringent safety requirements,” The Lever reported, adding federal officials told the outlet that the Norfolk Standard train was not being regulated as a “high-hazard flammable train.”

Much of the modern influence on federal rules can be traced back to 2014, when the Obama administration proposed new safety regulations for trains carrying hazardous materials. Those rules, The Lever notes, were whittled down after industry lobbyists successfully pressured administration officials to focus on crude oil and exempt lots of other combustible chemicals — including the ones involved in the Ohio disaster.

Federal protections were scaled back even more in 2017 when the Trump administration repealed a part of that rule mandating that rail cars carrying hazardous flammable materials must be equipped with electronic braking systems, which would allow those trains to stop quicker than conventional brakes.

That move was backed both by Senate Republicans alongside industry lobbyists that had donated more than $6 million to GOP campaigns in the 2016 election cycle.

Although Norfolk Southern had “previously touted” the new electronic braking technology, it lobbied in favor of the repeal, arguing that it would  “impose tremendous costs without providing offsetting safety benefits.”

Experts told the outlet that had these rules been in place, the Ohio derailment could have gone much differently.

“Would [electronic] brakes have reduced the severity of this accident? Yes,” said Steven Ditmeyer, a former senior official at the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). “The railroads will test new features. But once they are told they have to do it… they don’t want to spend the money.”

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (The Lever) (The American Prospect)


TikTok to Require Labels on Manipulated Media, Ban Deepfakes of Children



The social media platform says it wants to embrace the creativity AI can offer while being cautious of the “societal and individual risks” that come with it.

TikTok is rolling out a slew of limitations regarding synthetic deepfake videos, including a ban on deepfake content of children.

In an update on Tuesday, the social media platform said it wants welcome “the creativity that new artificial intelligence and other digital technologies may unlock” while also being careful of the “societal and individual risks” that come with it. To mitigate those risks, TikTok will require users to label manipulated media depicting “realistic scenes.” Users can do so in stickers, captions, or other means that make it clear the video is “synthetic,” “fake,” “not real,” or “altered.”

On top of that, there are new restrictions about who can be the subject of these manipulated videos. TikTok will not allow deepfake media that shows the likeness of a “young person” or any private person, including adults. It is also barring deepfakes that depict adult public figures giving political or commercial endorsements, as well as deepfakes that violate one of the platform’s other rules.

“While we provide more latitude for public figures, we do not want them to be the subject of abuse, or for people to be misled about political or financial issues,” the company’s updated guidelines say. 

As TikTok’s policies previously stated, synthetic media that has been edited to mislead audiences about real-world events is also not allowed on the platform. 

As far as what kind of deepfake media is allowed on TikTok, the company said videos showing adult public figures in “certain contexts, including artistic and educational content,” get the green light. This can include a video of a celebrity doing a TikTok dance, or a historical figure being depicted in a history lesson. 

The rules will be enforced starting April 21. Between now and then, TikTok says it will be training its moderators to better implement the guidelines.

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (The Associated Press) (TechCrunch)

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Adidas Financial Woes Continue, Company on Track for First Annual Loss in Decades



Adidas has labeled 2023 a “transition year” for the company. 

Yeezy Surplus 

Adidas’ split with musician Kanye West has left the company with financial problems due to surplus Yeezy products, putting the sportswear giant in the position to potentially suffer its first annual loss in over 30 years. 

Adidas dropped West last year after he made a series of antisemitic remarks on social media and other broadcasts. His Yeezy line was a staple for Adidas, and the surplus product is due, in part, to the brand’s own decision to continue production during the split.

According to CEO Bjorn Gulden, Adidas continued production of only the items already in the pipeline to prevent thousands of people from losing their jobs. However, that has led to the unfortunate overabundance of Yeezy sneakers and clothes. 

On Wednesday, Gulden said that selling the shoes and donating the proceeds makes more sense than giving them away due to the Yeezy resale market — which has reportedly shot up 30% since October.

“If we sell it, I promise that the people who have been hurt by this will also get something good out of this,” Gulden said in a statement to the press. 

However, Gulden also said that West is entitled to a portion of the proceeds of the sale of Yeezys per his royalty agreement.

The Numbers 

Adidas announced in February that, following its divergence from West, it is facing potential sales losses totaling around $1.2 billion and profit losses of around $500 million. 

If it decides to not sell any more Yeezy products, Adidas is facing a projected annual loss of over $700 million.

Outside of West, Adidas has taken several heavy profit blows recently. Its operating profit reportedly fell by 66% last year, a total of more than $700 million. It also pulled out of Russia after the country’s invasion of Ukraine last year, which cost Adidas nearly $60 million dollars. Additionally, China’s “Zero Covid” lockdowns last year caused in part a 36% drop in revenue for Adidas compared to years prior.

As a step towards a solution, Gulden announced that the company is slashing its dividends from 3.30 euros to 0.70 euro cents per share pending shareholder approval. 

Adidas has labeled 2023 a “transition year” for the company. 

“Adidas has all the ingredients to be successful. But we need to put our focus back on our core: product, consumers, retail partners, and athletes,” Gulden said. “I am convinced that over time we will make Adidas shine again. But we need some time.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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Elon Musk Bashes Disabled Ex-Twitter Employee, Gets Blowback



After Musk claimed the former employee “did no actual work,” the staffer calmly directed passive-aggressive insults right back at the billionaire.

Excuse Me, Do I Still Work Here?

Elon Musk brawled online with a former Twitter employee who didn’t know whether he was fired Tuesday, accusing the staffer of exploiting his disability.

Haraldur “Halli” Thorleifsson, who has muscular dystrophy, joined Twitter in 2021 after it acquired the creative agency he founded: Ueno.

He said on Twitter that he was unable to confirm whether he was still a Twitter employee nine days after being locked out of his work computer, despite reaching out to the head of HR and Musk himself through email.

At the time, Twitter had laid off at least 200 workers, or some 10% of its remaining workforce.

In search of an answer, Thorleifsson tweeted at Musk, who responded with the question: “What work have you been doing?”

After being given permission by Musk to break confidentiality, Thorleifsson listed several of his accomplishments, including leading “design crits to help level up design across the company.”

“Level up from what design to what? Pics or it didn’t happen,” Musk replied.

We haven’t hired design roles in 4 months. What changes did you make to help with the youths?”

Thorleifsson reminded Musk that he couldn’t access any pictures because he was locked out of his work computer.

Musk stopped replying to the tweets, but hours later he returned to the platform to lob invective at his former employee.

Musk Vs. Halli

“The reality is that this guy (who is independently wealthy) did no actual work, claimed as his excuse that he had a disability that prevented him from typing, yet was simultaneously tweeting up a storm,” Musk tweeted, apparently referring to Thorleifsson. “Can’t say I have a lot of respect for that.”

“But was he fired? No, you can’t be fired if you weren’t working in the first place,” he added.

In a later Twitter thread, Thorleifsson said he could type for one or two hours at a time before his hands cramped, but that in pre-Musk Twitter, that wasn’t a problem because he was a senior director.

He added that despite his crippling disability, he worked hard for years to build Ueno.

“We grew fast and made money,” he said. “I think that’s what you are referring to when you say independently wealthy? That I independently made my money, as opposed to say, inherited an emerald mine.”

Thorleifsson made several more passive-aggressive jabs at Musk.

“I joined at a time when the company was growing fast,” he wrote. “You kind of did the opposite. The company had a fair amount of issues, but then again, most bigger companies do. Or even small companies, like Twitter today.”

Thorleifsson said that immediately following his back-and-forth with Musk, Twitter’s head of HR confirmed that he had indeed been fired from the company.

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (CNN) (Yahoo)

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