Massive Coalition of Advocates Come Out in Opposition to USA Freedom Act

[Note:  This item comes from friend Sascha Meinrath.  DLH]

Massive Coalition of Advocates Come Out in Opposition to USA Freedom Act
Sep 15 2014
<http://fdlaction.firedoglake.com/2014/09/15/civil-liberties-advocates-organizations-and-whistleblowers-tell-congress-to-oppose-the-usa-freedom-act/>

Today, a trans-partisan coalition of surveillance whistleblowers, civil
liberties advocates, and organizations representing millions of Americans urged
Congress to reject the Senate version of the USA Freedom Act.

The civil liberties coalition’s joint letter outlines numerous concerns with the
legislation, including ambiguous language that is open to abuse, the failure to
include provisions specifically protecting the rights of Americans, blanket
legal immunity for corporations that help spy on Americans, and the
reauthorization of key sections of the USA PATRIOT Act relating to intelligence
gathering. As the coalition’s letter states:

“As long as S. 2685 contains ambiguous language that can be abused by the
Intelligence Community and lacks language that clearly protects innocent
Americans, we believe that focusing on USA PATRIOT Act reauthorization next
year, remedies in the courts, aggressive confirmation hearings for personnel,
and defunding of Intelligence Agencies are more constructive paths forward.”

While some civil liberties organizations have expressed support for Senator
Patrick Leahy’s version of the USA Freedom Act, a spokesperson for the coalition
said that the dangers posed by the bill outweigh the possible positives,
especially considering wide-ranging interpretations of some of the language the
bill contains.

“We’re not saying that anyone’s interpretations are wrong, just that this bill
can be interpreted in numerous different ways, which has previously proven to be
a major problem. Our issue is not just that the bill fails to stop many kind of
abuses, but that it can be interpreted as actually authorizing more aggressive
spying on us than ever before — and if civil liberties groups disagree on the
interpretation of this bill, imagine what the NSA’s interpretations will look
like,” stated Sascha Meinrath, an Internet culture leader and community Internet
pioneer.

The coalition also expressed grave reservations about reauthorizing provisions
of the Patriot Act for two years.

“In many ways, the Patriot Act is the root of the problem. It created the
framework for today’s unwarranted spying and rampant violations of basic privacy
rights. Trying to reform the NSA while simply extending these provisions in the
Patriot Act for two more years — and with no debate — is a little like
slapping a Band-Aid over an amputation,” said Brian Sonenstein of Firedoglake.com.

Signatories also include prominent Intelligence Community whistleblowers William
Binney, Thomas Drake, Daniel Ellsberg, and Mark Klein. Klein, who blew the
whistle on NSA surveillance conducted by AT&T nearly a decade ago, added:

“The bill tinkers around the edges of the phone call records collection while
leaving untouched the core of these surveillance programs: the vast,
unconstitutional dragnet collection of internet data which I helped expose. To
top it off, the bill now includes the renewal of the Patriot Act, thereby
institutionalizing the entire monstrous apparatus.”

4K TV, By Any Other Name, Still Doesn’t Spell Success

4K TV, By Any Other Name, Still Doesn’t Spell Success
By Swanni
Sep 18 2014
<http://www.tvpredictions.com/4k091814.htm>

Washington, D.C. (September 18, 2014) – Roughly 23 months ago, the Consumer Electronics Association wasn’t very happy with people calling the upcoming 4K TVs, well, 4K TVs. So the industry trade group decided the sets would be called, ‘Ultra High-Definition’ or ‘Ultra HD’ TVs.

The monikers lasted about five minutes. Sony announced almost immediately that their 4K sets would be called, “4K Ultra High-Definition” TVs. And the media has followed suit over the last two years, calling the new 4K TVs, well, ‘4K TVs.’ 

Not to be outdone, the CEA last week tried again, announcing that the sets should now be called, ‘4K Ultra HD’ TVs. 

My guess is that the media will continue to call them 4K TVs, as will consumers. That is, the few consumers who actually talk about them. 

The CEA’s decision to rename the 4K TV (twice, now) screams that the TV industry is worried about its chances or, at least, is worried that success will have a long ramp-up. It’s rare in any business that a successful product is redubbed (twice, now). And in those few instances when a product is renamed this late in its marketing cycle, it’s usually a strong hint that there are some nervous marketing people out there.

In this case, there are five major reasons why consumers are not buying the sets. And here they are:

1. Picture Hype
The 4K TV, or 4K Ultra HD TV, if you will, will deliver a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, compared to the 1,920 x 1080 of today’s 1080p HDTVs. But most display experts believe you need a 60-inch set or larger to see any difference between the 4K set and a 1080p set. And even then, the picture improvement is incremental, not dramatic, as it was when the first High-Definition TV was introduced. Will consumers, still struggling in a so-so economy, rush to their neighborhood TV store to buy a 4K TV if the picture is just a little better?

2. Price
And will those economically-challenged consumers buy the sets when they see the prices? Most large-screen 4K sets (60 inches and up) cost more than $2,000, a hefty purchase for the average family these days.

That said, prices will eventually decline, but…

3. Price & Picture Size
The cost of a 60-inch 4K set will likely still exceed the grasp of the average consumer for some time to come. (Remember, you’ll probably need a 60-inch set to see any difference in the picture.) High-Definition TV started to reach the masses when 42-inch sets became affordable; 4K may never have that ‘reach-the-masses’ moment because there won’t be much reason to buy a 42-inch 4K set. With a 60-inch set being the starter TV in the 4K category, prices will always seem high to the average person. (And there are some people who simply don’t like owning a TV that big.)

[snip]

What Is the Universe? Real Physics Has Some Mind-Bending Answers

[Note:  This item comes from friend Geoff Goodfellow.  DLH]

What Is the Universe? Real Physics Has Some Mind-Bending Answers
Science says the universe could be a hologram, a computer program, a black hole or a bubble—and there are ways to check
By Victoria Jaggard, smithsonian.com
Sep 15 2014
<http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science/what-universe-real-physics-has-some-mind-bending-answers-180952699/>

The questions are as big as the universe and (almost) as old as time: Where did I come from, and why am I here? That may sound like a query for a philosopher, but if you crave a more scientific response, try asking a cosmologist.

This branch of physics is hard at work trying to decode the nature of reality by matching mathematical theories with a bevy of evidence. Today most cosmologists think that the universe was created during the big bang about 13.8 billion years ago, and it is expanding at an ever-increasing rate. The cosmos is woven into a fabric we call space-time, which is embroidered with a cosmic web of brilliant galaxies and invisible dark matter.

It sounds a little strange, but piles of pictures, experimental data and models compiled over decades can back up this description. And as new information gets added to the picture, cosmologists are considering even wilder ways to describe the universe—including some outlandish proposals that are nevertheless rooted in solid science:

The universe is a hologram

Look at a standard hologram, printed on a 2D surface, and you’ll see a 3D projection of the image. Decrease the size of the individual dots that make up the image, and the hologram gets sharper. In the 1990s, physicists realized that something like this could be happening with our universe.

Classical physics describes the fabric of space-time as a four-dimensional structure, with three dimensions of space and one of time. Einstein’s theory of general relativity says that, at its most basic level, this fabric should be smooth and continuous. But that was before quantum mechanics leapt onto the scene. While relativity is great at describing the universe on visible scales, quantum physics tells us all about the way things work on the level of atoms and subatomic particles. According to quantum theories, if you examine the fabric of space-time close enough, it should be made of teeny-tiny grains of information, each a hundred billion billion times smaller than a proton.

Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind and Nobel prize winner Gerard ‘t Hoofthave each presented calculations showing what happens when you try to combine quantum and relativistic descriptions of space-time. They found that, mathematically speaking, the fabric should be a 2D surface, and the grains should act like the dots in a vast cosmic image, defining the “resolution” of our 3D universe. Quantum mechanics also tells us that these grains should experience random jitters that might occasionally blur the projection and thus be detectable. Last month, physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory started collecting data with a highly sensitive arrangement of lasers and mirrors called the Holometer. This instrument is finely tuned to pick up miniscule motion in space-time and reveal whether it is in fact grainy at the smallest scale. The experiment should gather data for at least a year, so we may know soon enough if we’re living in a hologram.

[snip]

Re: Apple’s “warrant canary” disappears, suggesting new Patriot Act demands

[Note:  This comment comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

From: “David S. H. Rosenthal” <dshr@abitare.org>
Subject: Re: [Dewayne-Net] Apple’s “warrant canary” disappears, suggesting new Patriot Act demands
Date: September 18, 2014 at 18:19:01 EDT
To: dewayne@warpspeed.com

Apple’s “warrant canary” disappears, suggesting new Patriot Act demands
By Jeff John Roberts
Sep 18 2014
<https://gigaom.com/2014/09/18/apples-warrant-canary-disappears-suggesting-new-patriot-act-demands/>

When Apple published its first Transparency Report
<http://images.apple.com/privacy/docs/government-information-requests-20131105.pdf> on
government activity in late 2013, the document contained an important
footnote that stated:

“Apple has never received an order under Section 215 of the USA Patriot
Act. We would expect to challenge such an order if served on us.”

<http://www.emptywheel.net/2014/09/18/about-apples-dead-warrant-canary/>

David.

Exceptional Oxymoron

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal. DLH]

Exceptional Oxymoron
By digby
Sep 18 2014<http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2014/09/exceptional-oxymoron.html>

The land of the free imprisons more people than any other nation in the world:

Both in raw numbers and by percentage of the population, the United States has the most prisoners of any developed country in the world — and it has the largest total prison population of any nation. That didn’t change in 2013. After several years in which the prison population dropped slightly, the raw number of inmates in United States custody went up again in 2013.

More than 1.57 million inmates sat behind bars in federal, state, and county prisons and jails around the country as of December 31, 2013. In the federal prisons, more than half of those sentenced to a stints of a year or longer are still there for drug crimes. In states including Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, and Georgia, at least 1 percent of male residents were in prison on December 31. And across the country, racial disparities persist. Black men are six times more likely than white men to be in prison. Hispanic men are 2.4 times more likely, according to a Sentencing Project analysis of the data.

This doesn’t paint the full picture of the U.S. incarceration system. Many have estimated the total number of U.S. incarceration to be more than 2.4 million. This is in part because another estimated 12 million individuals cycle through the county jail systems in a given year for periods of less than a year, and are therefore not factored into a snapshot on December 31. There are also other mechanisms of incarceration not factored into this figure, including immigration detention, civil commitment, and Indian Country facilities, according to a Prison Policy Initiative briefing.

Does that make any sense at all? 

Elon Musk says self-driving car technology still has another 5 to 6 years to go

Elon Musk says self-driving car technology still has another 5 to 6 years to go
Cars need better eyes first
By Josh Lowensohn
<http://www.theverge.com/2014/9/18/6446245/musk-says-fully-self-driving-car-tech-5-to-6-years-out>

About a year ago, Tesla announced its plans to develop self-driving car technologies, and now founder and CEO Elon Musk says there’s still quite a bit of work to be done before that’s a reality. Another 5 to 6 years, to be precise. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Musk says that the various technologies needed to make that happen still needs years of work to perfect, and that it could take a few more after that for laws and regulations to catch up.

The reason, Musk told The Journal, is that Tesla — and others — are still trying to crack the code of helping computers recognize objects. Current systems rely on radar, cameras, and other sensors to see what’s around them and make decisions. Some of those systems have gotten smaller, better, and less expensive, though they still require software that can identify objects and make the right decisions.

Cars are still learning how to see and think

Many other companies are currently trying to perfect just that process, including Google which is running virtual simulations of California roads to train the cars used in its self-driving car project. For its part, California this week issued the first group of permits to let Google, Mercedes, and Audi legally begin testing self-driving cars on roadways, with other companies expected to follow.

The two major promises of self-driving cars are safety and convenience. Computer-controlled cars promise to react to things faster, and could open up certain sections of roadways to higher speeds given the extra reaction time — speeding up long distance car travel. “They will be a factor of 10 safer than a person [at the wheel] in a six-year time frame,” Musk says. For convenience, a car that drives itself would allow passengers to focus on other things besides maneuvering around roadways and other drivers.

Musk’s estimates for Tesla are not that far off from other automakers, which hope to have fully-autonomous cars on the road by 2020. Last August, Nissan said it planned to have multiple models available by then, with an estimated price increase only of $1,000 per car. Others, like GM and startup Cruise are aiming to deliver souped up versions of cruise control that will let the car drive itself on highways, just with a human still behind the wheel.

Even a response to Ebola can apparently be politicized

Even a response to Ebola can apparently be politicized
By Steve Benen
Sep 18 2014
<http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/even-response-ebola-can-apparently-be-politicized>

President Obama traveled to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta this week to unveil an ambitious U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak in Africa, including money, materials, and military and health personnel.

It’s one of the most aggressive responses in U.S. history to a disease outbreak. Michele Richinick reported that “as many as 3,000 military personnel will assist in training new health care workers and building treatment clinics in the countries affected by the disease,” and some of our financial resources will be used to “construct 17 new treatment centers, each with 100 beds, and 10,000 sets of protective equipment and supplies to help 400,000 families protect themselves from the epidemic that is spreading exponentially.”

A day later, the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, announced plans to establish “a new on-the-ground mission in West Africa to coordinate the struggle against Ebola,” while the World Bank Group issued a report warning of a “potentially catastrophic blow” to the economies of countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

Right-wing media are using President Obama’s plan to fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa as another opportunity to attack him. Conservatives are calling the president a “hypocrite” because he’s sending “more soldiers to fight Ebola than we are sending to fight ISIS”; labeling the plan “arrogant” because of problems with HealthCare.gov; and accusing him of trying to “change the subject” by “fighting a really bad flu bug.”

It was former Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) who equated the Ebola virus with a “really bad flu bug.”

Rush Limbaugh added, “We are sending more soldiers to fight Ebola than we are sending to fight ISIS or other Muslim terrorists…. I didn’t know you could shoot a virus. Did you?”

For what it’s worth, there’s a credible argument to explain why a military component should be part of the response to an outbreak like this. Julia Belluz had an interesting piece on this yesterday, noting the larger debate.

[snip]