The real state of the union is inescapable

The real state of the union is inescapable
By Matt Miller
Jan 28 2014

Can a president really be a “year of action” hero armed with just his “pen and phone”? Or is that a formula for what I call kinder, gentler decline? Those are the essential questions beneath the pomp and ceremony of the State of the Union. And maybe the paradoxical answer to both questions is “yes.”

I’m always torn when watching a State of the Union speech. I agree with the vision of America that Barack Obama laid out. Trouble is, I’ve agreed with it since I first heard Bill Clinton lay out the same vision when I followed Clinton into the White House as an aide in 1993. Yet in the years since, on virtually every metric progressives care about — save for expanded health coverage, once the dust finally clears from Obamacare — the measures of a good society have gone in the wrong direction.

Wages are stagnant or shrinking. School rankings have sagged. College and health costs have soared. Our rates of child poverty lead the developed world. Decent jobs remain scarce. The accident of birth weighs more heavily in dictating one’s destiny.

All the compelling anecdotes or special guests in the chamber don’t change that.

When I hear Obama cry that no one who works full time should live in poverty in America, it’s like Groundhog day. Can I be alone in this reaction? I want to play the split screen with Bill Clinton saying exactly the same thing. It made sense then. It makes sense now. So how long does a wealthy, sane nation need to fix this? If twenty years isn’t good enough – two decades in which the economy nearly doubled in size in real terms – do we need 50 years? 100?

The president faces obvious constraints. But is the illusion of meaningful action really the most effective strategy? I get that the White House wants to signal that it can still “do things.” I know the administration wants to use issues like the minimum wage to frame the midterm elections. Maybe their choice is understandable.

And yet the real state of the union seems inescapable. In the face of enormous economic strains on the middle class, Republicans have no ideas, and Democrats have puny “pen and phone” ideas. The result is little progress, paired with a rhetoric-reality gap among Democrats that’s rising even faster than our concentration of wealth.

Consider some of the executive actions touted by the White House. The minimum wage measure is a big deal, even if it only applies to new federal contracts (and therefore to only a relative handful of workers). It’s an important effort to lay down a marker about a decent minimal reward for work.

But a “summit on working families?” A review of federal job training programs six years into the president’s tenure? Asking CEOs to (pretty please) consider hiring the long-term unemployed? “Mobilizing” the private sector to offer more apprenticeships? Passing the tin cup to corporate foundations to help connect schools to the internet?


Take it from Facebook and Microsoft: The future of hardware is open

Take it from Facebook and Microsoft: The future of hardware is open
Microsoft backs Facebook’s Open Compute Project, embracing open source hardware and one-upping secretive Amazon
By Caroline Craig
Jan 31 2014

Momentum continues to build behind Facebook’s Open Compute Project, which capped its fifth Open Compute Summit this week by welcoming a surprise new participant: Microsoft. With its decision to participate in the OCP’s open hardware community, the Redmond giant may yet prove there’s more than smoke and mirrors to its embrace of open source.

The OCP, a collaboration launched in 2011, aims to drive down data center costs by developing more efficient servers using open source hardware — what InfoWorld’s Eric Knorr described as “building a mainframe out of Legos.” Its model for sharing specifications and hardware designs is more traditionally associated with open source software, but as proof of the OCP’s effectiveness, Facebook announced it saved $1.2 billion in energy and management costs by using open source products in the last three years.

At Open Compute Summit, Microsoft announced it will contribute the designs for the cloud servers that run services like Bing and Windows Azure, as well as system management source code. In making the announcement, Bill Laing, corporate vice president for cloud and enterprise at Microsoft, noted that Microsoft and Facebook are the only cloud service providers to publicly release their server specifications, thus vaulting Microsoft into the unfamiliar position of being at the forefront of hardware openness, particularly as compared to secretive Amazon.

“My belief is that they are trying to have a voice in a community that they haven’t had a voice before,” said Patrick Moorhead, founder and president of research firm Moor Insights & Strategy. “Microsoft may be joining the Open Compute Project to better understand the community ahead of Linux and the do-it-yourself mentality spreading to the enterprise market,” Moorhead said.

Microsoft also joined up with Linux developers Red Hat and Suse, server makers HP and Dell, and chipmakers AMD and Applied Micro to announce a new OCP project for accelerating the development of ARM-based servers. ARM server chips, seen as a low-power alternative to x86 for various Web and data analytics workloads, are a key part of Facebook’s aim to bring down the costs of data centers. While Microsoft didn’t commit to developing ARM versions of Windows Server and Hyper-V, it contributed to a specification to help standardize the ARM server platform.

In an effort to further encourage a broader participation by hardware makers, the OCP announced an expansion of its licensing options to include a GPL-like license for open source hardware “that will require anyone who modifies an original design and then sells that design to contribute the modified version back to the foundation.”


California threatens code boot camps with the boot

California threatens code boot camps with the boot
Regulators are cracking down on programming boot camps, saying they need to be licensed like other institutes of learning
By Serdar Yegulalp
Jan 31 2014

Do programming boot camps, where people pay to learn coding skills in 10- to 12-week intervals, deserve to be regulated as closely as more conventional vocational schools? California’s state government says yes, but the coding camps say no.

According to VentureBeat, educationalregulators in California are hounding a number of coding boot camps on the grounds that they’re operating as unlicensed postsecondary educational institutions. If those boot camps don’t come into compliance, they risk a $50,000 fine and the threat of being shuttered.

But many of the boot camps in question don’t feel they need to be regulated as strictly as, for instance, vocational schools that train people for occupations that require licensing (an example: beauticians).

California’s BPPE (Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education) was founded in 2010 to oversee the operations of the more than 1,500 postsecondary schools in the state. Any school or nonprofit where the student pays more than $2,500 out of pocket is exempt from its oversight; many boot camps charge tens of thousands of dollars for their multiweek courses.

The BPPE started cracking down on coding camps earlier in January, demanding they be licensed the same as other vocational schools. What’s more, the BPPE wanted them to come into compliance within the next two weeks, but also claimed it’s more interested in seeing the boot camps in question make a good-faith attempt to comply than it is in shuttering those institutions entirely.

Among the boot camps cited were App Academy, Dev Bootcamp, Hack Reactor, Hackbright Academy, and Zipfian Academy. General Assembly, a boot camp founded in 2011 in New York City but now with San Francisco and Los Angeles locations as well, has stated it is already in talks with the state to come into compliance.

Some coding camps have the flavor of a trade school and cite their graduates’ offers for jobs with name-brand tech companies after completing their courses. With the rising number of folks spending their own money to get IT training of one kind or another, learn-to-code camps could start figuring in more prominently as a go-to source for such training.

But other boot camps seem organized more along the lines of social programs — for example, Hackbright, which focuses on allowing women to learn coding skills. Consequently, some of them argue they’re not subject to conventional education regulations, which they cite as time-consuming and expensive.


Moyers & Company: David Simon on America as a Horror Show

Moyers & Company: David Simon on America as a Horror Show
January 31, 2014

This week on Moyers & Company, David Simon, journalist and creator of the TV series The Wire and Treme, talks with Bill about the crisis of capitalism in America. After President Barack Obama’s annual State of the Union address, it’s a reality check from someone who artfully uses television drama to report on the state of America from an entirely different perspective — the bottom up.

“The horror show is we are going to be slaves to profit. Some of us are going to be higher on the pyramid and we’ll count ourselves lucky and many many more will be marginalized and destroyed,” Simon tells Moyers. He blames a “purchased” Congress for failing America’s citizens, leading many of them to give up on politics altogether.

Producer: Gina Kim. Segment Producer: Lena Shemel. Editor: Rob Kuhns.

Video+Transcript: 26:46 min

Google’s showcased shopping found to come at a premium

[Note:  This item comes from reader Randall Head.  DLH]

From: Randall Webmail <>
Subject: Google’s showcased shopping found to come at a premium
Date: January 31, 2014 at 10:50:16 PST
To: Dewayne Hendricks <>

Five out of every six items in the panels shown on a Google search made in America are more expensive than the same items from other merchants hidden deeper in the index, with an average premium of 34 per cent, according to a Financial Times analysis.


Google’s showcased shopping found to come at a premium
By Richard Waters in San Francisco
Nov 24 2013

Anyone in the US doing their holiday shopping from the product showcases that appear at the top of Google’s search results is almost certain to pay substantially more than if they delved deeper in the search engine.

Five out of every six items in the panels shown on a Google search made in America are more expensive than the same items from other merchants hidden deeper in the index, with an average premium of 34 per cent, according to a Financial Times analysis.   

The scale of the apparent premium pricing drew complaints from some Google critics, who said it echoed issues that are at the heart of an antitrust case in Brussels in which the company has already reached a tentative settlement with European regulators.

By showing its chosen product listings prominently while relegating other services, Google could make more money from merchants who paid to have their products featured, said Gary Reback, a Silicon Valley lawyer who represents a number of the search engine’s rivals.

Google countered that the price paid by consumers was only one consideration in how it selected items to appear in the panels. “Just as people consider multiple factors when they shop, like free shipping or whether they prefer a particular retailer, there are a variety of factors” at work, it said.

Critics claim that many consumers do not realise the product listings are advertising rather than Google’s selection of the best products to buy. Unlike other panes that show advertising on the search engine, the panels are not tinted a different colour and are labelled “sponsored” rather than “ads”.

“Fundamentally it’s not clear to people it’s an ad,” said John Simpson, director of the privacy project at Consumer Watchdog, a Google critic.

The online retailer Amazon also offers some merchants an edge over rivals, But, unlike Google, it says they cannot pay for a privileged position.

Google’s panels first appeared in the US in 2012 and have started to appear in other countries this year. The FT’s analysis took in products listed on the more developed US service.

A search for “digital camera”, for instance, returns pictures of a number of gadgets, along with prices and merchants’ names. If a user clicks on an ad – resulting in a payment to Google – they are taken to the merchant’s page where they can buy the product. Yet a search in Google Shopping, an alternative service, always turns up the same product for a significantly lower price.

The prominence of the product showcase has made it a big money-spinner for Google, with Wall Street expecting it to be an important contributor to profits in the final months of this year.


FCC OKs IP transition trials with focus on consumers

FCC OKs IP transition trials with focus on consumers
By Kate Tummarello
The Hill
Jan 30 2014

The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to allow telephone companies to propose trials that would replace traditional technology with Internet-based technology.

The phone companies asking for the trials argue they have to maintain the costly, highly regulated older technologies despite the fact that customers are increasingly relying on the newer Internet-based technologies.

After the unanimous vote at Thursday’s FCC meeting, companies can approach the commission with proposals for trials to learn more about this technological switch — the Internet Protocol, or IP, transition


Obama: Clapper Excused Because ‘Between Rock & A Hard Place’

Obama: Clapper Excused Because ‘Between Rock & A Hard Place’.
By LieparDestin
Jan 31 2014

President Obama, whose administration promised a new era of transparency, has now officially come out in regards to the lies told to congress by James Clapper, providing excuses:

President Obama said Friday that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper “should have been more careful” when he testified to a Senate panel last year that the National Security Agency did not collect data on millions of Americans.

“I think that Jim Clapper himself would acknowledge, and has acknowledged, that he should have been more careful about how he responded,” Obama told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “His concern was that he had a classified program that he couldn’t talk about and he was in an open hearing in which he was asked, he was prompted to disclose a program, and so he felt that he was caught between a rock and a hard place.

…During a open hearing in March, Clapper said “no” when Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, asked if the NSA collected “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.”

So Clapper’s crime is excused away as ‘being between a rock and a hard place’, but Snowden who was not subject to whistleblower protection, and the only outlets he could ‘legally’ take the information to were deeply involved in allowing the now known criminality to continue…. must be tried because ‘he broke the law’. This is the kind of disconnect that creates a mistrust in an administration I once admired. Especially because Clapper’s excuses keep changing:

“He’s kind of stuck because he’s got to say we collect on a very broad range of individuals but we actually only process and read a tiny portion of them,” Lewis, former Foreign Service officer, said. “He might want to issue a clarifying statement. A lot of people are either intentionally or otherwise don’t understand the difference between collect and read.”

Intelligence director Clapper explained it this way Saturday in an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell:

“To me, collection of a U.S. person’s data would mean taking the books off the shelf, opening it up and reading it,” Clapper told Mitchell.

Clapper, however, could simply have refused to answer.

Shifting rationalizations. First it was because he was parsing ‘collect’ and ‘read’ and then when that did not pass the sniff test, he went to the ‘classified’ excuse.
“The fear is by even refusing to answer the question, you’re confirming it,” Lewis said. “It put Clapper in a tough spot.”

This does not pass the sniff test either, as this happens all the time. Example…last week:

He also questioned Clapper on whether the NSA had conducted “warrantless searches” for “specific” Americans’ identifying information in its vast databases of foreigners’ internet content, an authority first reported by the Guardian.

“Can you tell us today whether any such searches have ever been conducted?” Wyden asked.

“Senator Wyden, I think, at a threat hearing, this would … I would prefer not to discuss this and have this as a separate subject. There are very complex legal issues here, I just don’t think this is the appropriate time or place,” Clapper said.

While Obama may be willing to excuse Clapper, at least the House Judicial Committee is calling for some action::


Millions Are Now Realizing They’re Too Poor For Obamacare

Millions Are Now Realizing They’re Too Poor For Obamacare
By Jeffrey Young
Jan 31 2014

Thanks to a Supreme Court ruling and staunch Republican resistance, Marc Alphonse, an unemployed 40-year-old Marine veteran who is essentially homeless, cannot get health insurance under Obamacare.

Three years ago, Alphonse learned he has a kidney disorder that will deteriorate into kidney failure, and possibly prove fatal, if left untreated. As it stands now, he suffers from bouts of nausea caused by his dysfunctional kidneys, and he’s dogged by an old knee injury that limits his job prospects. He gets by on $400 a month in unemployment benefits, and his family can no longer afford housing in their home city of Miami. Alphonse’s 28-year-old wife, Danielle, and three young children are staying with relatives while Alphonse couch surfs.

“I live from family to family until I’m able to get myself situated,” he told The Huffington Post.

Alphonse is one of nearly 5 million uninsured Americans caught in a cruel gap that renders some Americans “too poor for Obamacare.”

Broken Promise

Obamacare was supposed to make health coverage affordable, or even free, for low-income Americans. The law’s official name is the Affordable Care Act. However, the Supreme Court tossed a huge obstacle in the path of that goal in 2012, ruling that the states could opt out of one of Obamacare’s crucial provisions: The expansion of Medicaid coverage to anyone making less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,300 a year for a single person. Since the court’s ruling, 24 states, including Florida, chose not to expand the program.

Under the pre-Obamacare rules, eligibility for the program typically was limited to low-income children, pregnant women, parents caring for children at home, and adults with disabilities. Without the law’s expansion, an adult without a disability who isn’t living with their children — like Alphonse — doesn’t qualify for Medicaid, no matter how poor he or she is.

For those who don’t qualify for Medicaid coverage, Obamacare offers tax credits for private health plans sold through the law’s health insurance exchange marketplaces. But those subsidies are available only to those making between the poverty level, or about $11,500 for an individual, and four times that amount. In states not expanding Medicaid, people who earn less than poverty wages get nothing.

In Alphonse’s case, his family is trying to survive on his unemployment insurance. It amounts to $4,800 a year — far below the poverty level, which is $27,570 for a family of five. Even the unemployment benefits will run out in March.

‘People Break Down In Tears’

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) launched his political career in 2009 as a health care reform antagonist. Originally, he opposed the Medicaid expansion, but he then changed his mind. Last year, Scott and the majority-Republican state Senate backed a plan to accept federal dollars to expand the program. The GOP-led state House of Representatives refused to go along.

Now, 764,000 low-income adults in Florida will remain without insurance because of the coverage gap, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. And they’re beginning to understand the tragic consequences of that public battle. At Miami’s Borinquen Medical Centers for low-income and uninsured patients, Jason Connor sees hopes crushed as people who thought Obamacare could help them at long last learn otherwise.

“We’ve had people break down in tears at our desk,” said Connor, who is under contract with the community health centers to do Affordable Care Act outreach and enrollment activities through his company, Choice Returns.

Seventy-eight percent of the 50,000 patients that Borinquen Medical Centers treat every year are uninsured, Connor said. About 20 percent of those who visit their facilities looking to apply for benefits fall into the coverage gap, he added.

“Folks are frustrated and they’re angry, and they’ll curse at you even though you have nothing to do with it,” he said.

GOP Revolts

When the Supreme Court ruled that states could opt out of the Medicaid expansion, Florida, Texas and nearly the entire South turned away billions in federal dollars offered for broadening the program, citing budgetary concerns and resistance to Obamacare itself. The federal government will pay the full cost of the Medicaid expansion through 2016, after which its share will be no less than 90 percent.

These decisions by governors and legislators essentially consigned a huge swath of the very poor to a life of extreme insecurity. 

“It’s very frustrating,” said Alphonse, who last worked as a security guard until being laid off 10 months ago. “It’s kind of odd where an individual that has an opportunity to help millions of people in their own state, and they just totally refuse to do it.”


Who wants competition? Big cable tries outlawing municipal broadband in Kansas

Who wants competition? Big cable tries outlawing municipal broadband in Kansas
Lobbyist for Comcast, Cox, TWC wrote bill to stifle rivals like Google Fiber.
By Jon Brodkin
Jan 31 2014

Legislation introduced in the Kansas state legislature by a lobby for cable companies would make it almost impossible for cities and towns to offer broadband services to residents and would perhaps even outlaw public-private partnerships like the one that brought Google Fiber to Kansas City.

The Senate bill doesn’t list any lawmaker as its sponsor, and there’s a reason—a Senate employee told us it was submitted by John Federico on behalf of the Kansas Cable Telecommunications Association, of which he is president.
That’s a lobby group with members such as Comcast, Cox, Eagle Communications, and Time Warner Cable. The bill was introduced this week, referred to the Committee on Commerce, and scheduled for discussion for Tuesday of next week.

The telco-written bill starts out pleasantly enough, saying its goal is to “Ensure that video, telecommunications, and broadband services are provided through fair competition consistent with the federal telecommunications act of 1996” to “encourage the development and widespread use of technological advances in providing video, telecommunications and broadband services at competitive rates; and ensure that video, telecommunications and broadband services are each provided within a consistent, comprehensive, and nondiscriminatory federal, state, and local government framework.”

But instead of promoting development in broadband networks, the bill actually limits the possibility of them being built. Here’s the key passage:

Except with regard to unserved areas, a municipality may not, directly or indirectly:
(1) Offer or provide to one or more subscribers, video, telecommunications, or broadband service; or
(2) purchase, lease, construct, maintain, or operate any facility for the purpose of enabling a private business or entity to offer, provide, carry, or deliver video, telecommunications, or broadband service to one or more subscribers.

A municipality would not be able to offer broadband “through a partnership, joint venture, or other entity in which the municipality participates,” the bill says. The city or town also would not be able to use its powers of eminent domain to condemn any facility “for the purpose of enabling a private business or entity to offer, provide, carry, or deliver video, telecommunications, or broadband service to one or more subscribers.”

While the bill lets cities and towns offer service in “unserved areas,” it defines such areas as those where at least 90 percent of households lack access to any broadband service, whether it be “fixed or mobile, or satellite broadband service” at the minimum broadband speed defined by the Federal Communications Commission, which is 4Mbps down and 1Mbps up.

Since satellite can be used pretty much anywhere at broadband speeds (but with annoying latency), it would be hard to identify any “unserved areas” as defined by this legislation. The bill does allow networks “for internal government purposes,” but not for any users outside the government.

The bill has unsurprisingly drawn outrage. “The language in this bill prohibits not only networks that directly offer services but even public-private partnerships and open access approaches,” wrote Christopher Mitchell of Community Broadband Networks. “This is the kind of language one would expect to see if the goal is to protect politically powerful cable and telephone company monopolies rather than just limiting local authority to deliver services.”


In a distributed world cache is king. Why routers are becoming the new server

In a distributed world cache is king. Why routers are becoming the new server.
By Stacey Higginbotham
Jan 31 2014

That devices will communicate with the cloud is the default setting for most thinking on architecting a connected world. But that’s not the only way it could play out.

Much like Amazon(a amzn) sparked a revolution in not just corporate IT but also in how companies build out their infrastructure (you could probably credit VMware’s virtualization software with a role in this as well), the rise in connected sensors and devices will rock the world of information technology again.

Cisco calls this architecture shift “fog”, while others (including me) are desperately trying to some up with something else to describe what’s happening and why. The short rationale for this shift is that, as we connect more devices at the edge, we need a highly distributed architecture that encompasses not just data centers but the edge nodes, with applications that can handle the distributed compute and the databases that such an architecture requires.

In the last few months, two companies have both hit upon a way to handle this shift — and they are doing it with the realization that in this brave new connected world the network is a potential bottleneck. Their solution involves turning the humble router into a way station for data, for content and for real-time processing that can’t afford to make the trip up to the cloud.

To paraphrase the old Sun ads, the router is becoming the computer.

Yesterday Cisco showed off its new architecture for a world with connected devices trying to communicate real-time data to the cloud. Designed for the “fog,” Cisco’s IOx architecture will be a Linux-based operating system that will be embedded in forthcoming industrial routers.

And unlike its previous box software, Cisco says it plans to open the IOx architecture up for others to run their own applications on, but that will remain to be seen. Cisco sums it up in its release like this:

To better monitor, manage and respond to the massive amount of data generated by IoT, IOx allows applications to run as close as possible to the data source and create automated responses that drive value.

Cisco isn’t alone. In the residential world, Qualcomm has a similar vision for the humble router, turning it into a content cache, and a computer set to manage a house full of connected devices, including running algorithms that govern which devices things can talk to and when they might have access to the internet. Late last year, Qualcomm introduced its internet processor chipto be the brains behind this router/computer combo, and at CES it showed off a content caching concept with Akamai. The idea here is similar to Cisco’s. That many connected things will need a local compute and cache of data and applications to function optimally.