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::