Daily Archive: 04/19/2013

Apr 19 2013

Australia, Australia, Australia, Australia

This here’s the wattle – the emblem of our land. You can stick it in a bottle or you can hold it in your hand.

Apr 19 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Paul Krugman: The Excel Depression

In this age of information, math errors can lead to disaster. NASA’s Mars Orbiter crashed because engineers forgot to convert to metric measurements; JPMorgan Chase’s “London Whale” venture went bad in part because modelers divided by a sum instead of an average. So, did an Excel coding error destroy the economies of the Western world? [..]

What the Reinhart-Rogoff affair shows is the extent to which austerity has been sold on false pretenses. For three years, the turn to austerity has been presented not as a choice but as a necessity. Economic research, austerity advocates insisted, showed that terrible things happen once debt exceeds 90 percent of G.D.P. But “economic research” showed no such thing; a couple of economists made that assertion, while many others disagreed. Policy makers abandoned the unemployed and turned to austerity because they wanted to, not because they had to.

So will toppling Reinhart-Rogoff from its pedestal change anything? I’d like to think so. But I predict that the usual suspects will just find another dubious piece of economic analysis to canonize, and the depression will go on and on.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Why the ‘Spreadsheet Scandal’ Should Kill Obama’s Social Security Cut

A recent “Spreadsheet Scandal” has rocked the economics world. It also seems to have eliminated the last remaining technical argument in support of the president’s “chained CPI” Social Security cut.

Not weakened it. Eliminated it.

I believe the president proposed the chained CPI in good faith. I don’t know if the same can be said about his campaign pledges on that subject, but I think he genuinely believed these cuts were needed. I think his economic advisors thought they were doing the right thing by proposing them.  And I think that this now-discredited spreadsheet helped convince them.

Dean Baker: Did a Spreadsheet Error Cost You Your Job?

Did an Excel error cost you your job? This is what people around the world should be asking after researchers at the University of Massachusetts uncovered a serious calculation mistake. The mistake was in an enormously influential paper by Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff, two prominent economists, which purports to show that high levels of government debt lead to slow economic growth.

This paper has been widely cited by political figures around the world who have been pushing the case for cutting back government spending and raising taxes. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan famously cited Reinhart and Rogoff when he laid out his budget earlier this year. So have many of the politicians now pushing for cuts in Social Security and Medicare.

Tony Bennett: A Battle for the American People

After Sandy Hook I called my son Danny and we both said, “Enough is enough.” And those three words say a lot about the need for common sense gun laws but there are three words that I feel are even more important… We The People. It always serves to remind ourselves that the government works for us — they should be doing what we tell them to do — not the other way around. What happened in the Senate with the vote for stricter gun laws ignored the voice of the American people. It also defied common sense. Over 200 years ago Thomas Paine, an American patriot, ignited the American Revolution when he wrote his pamphlet called “Common Sense.” Somehow along the way we have lost our common sense. When it is harder to obtain a library card than it is to buy a gun in this country, something is terribly wrong. I mean, would you let your neighbor drive 100 miles an hour in their car through your children’s school zone? I hope you wouldn’t, but regardless everyone has the right to own a care but the safety or our community comes first and foremost. It’s just common sense. We must always balance our rights and responsibilities as responsible citizens. This is the same common sense gun legislation that was proposed to the Senate. It is clear that this is a public safety issue and it’s about keeping guns out of the wrong hands. And when I say the wrong hands, I include our children. It’s simply common sense.

Ralph Nader: Time for a Sales Tax on Wall Street Financial Transactions

Here are some questions to consider: What do the Wall Street firms do that is so vital for the national interest? How does speculation contribute to our society? It’s time for Wall Street to step up and provide some answers.

The reckless actions of Wall Street institutions led to the collapse of the the U.S. economy and the deep recession of 2008-09. The Wall Street firms looted and gambled trillions in worker pensions and mutual fund savings. The Wall Street traders made billions of dollars in speculative money — bets on bets — holding hostage the real economy where money is made by providing goods and services. And the actions of Wall Street resulted in the loss of more than 8 million jobs.

New York Times Editorial Board: The Constitution and Blood Testing

Drunken driving kills someone every 53 minutes – 9,878 times in the United States in 2011. But the problem, however grave, should not be solved by policies that violate constitutional rights. The Supreme Court was correct when it ruled Wednesday that a Missouri policy requiring a blood test, even without a search warrant, of anyone arrested on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol violated the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches – unless circumstances demand immediate action and justify a warrantless test. [..]

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in an opinion joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and, for the most part, Anthony Kennedy, said that drawing blood to test its alcohol concentration is “an invasion of bodily integrity” that involves an individual’s “most personal and deep-rooted expectations of privacy.”

Apr 19 2013

On This Day In History April 19

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

April 19 is the 109th day of the year (110th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 256 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1775, the American Revolution beginsAt about 5 a.m., 700 British troops, on a mission to capture Patriot leaders and seize a Patriot arsenal, march into Lexington to find 77 armed minutemen under Captain John Parker waiting for them on the town’s common green. British Major John Pitcairn ordered the outnumbered Patriots to disperse, and after a moment’s hesitation the Americans began to drift off the green. Suddenly, the “shot heard around the world” was fired from an undetermined gun, and a cloud of musket smoke soon covered the green. When the brief Battle of Lexington ended, eight Americans lay dead or dying and 10 others were wounded. Only one British soldier was injured, but the American Revolution had begun.

First shot

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his “Concord Hymn”, described the first shot fired by the Patriots at the North Bridge as the “shot heard “round the world.”

A British officer, probably Pitcairn, but accounts are uncertain, as it may also have been Lieutenant William Sutherland, then rode forward, waving his sword, and called out for the assembled throng to disperse, and may also have ordered them to “lay down your arms, you damned rebels!” Captain Parker told his men instead to disperse and go home, but, because of the confusion, the yelling all around, and due to the raspiness of Parker’s tubercular voice, some did not hear him, some left very slowly, and none laid down their arms. Both Parker and Pitcairn ordered their men to hold fire, but a shot was fired from an unknown source.

According to one member of Parker’s militia none of the Americans had discharged their muskets as they faced the oncoming British troops. The British did suffer one casualty, a slight wound, the particulars of which were corroborated by a deposition made by Corporal John Munroe. Munroe stated that:

   “After the first fire of the regulars, I thought, and so stated to Ebenezer Munroe …who stood next to me on the left, that they had fired nothing but powder; but on the second firing, Munroe stated they had fired something more than powder, for he had received a wound in his arm; and now, said he, to use his own words, ‘I’ll give them the guts of my gun.’ We then both took aim at the main body of British troops the smoke preventing our seeing anything but the heads of some of their horses and discharged our pieces.”

Some witnesses among the regulars reported the first shot was fired by a colonial onlooker from behind a hedge or around the corner of a tavern. Some observers reported a mounted British officer firing first. Both sides generally agreed that the initial shot did not come from the men on the ground immediately facing each other. Speculation arose later in Lexington that a man named Solomon Brown fired the first shot from inside the tavern or from behind a wall, but this has been discredited. Some witnesses (on each side) claimed that someone on the other side fired first; however, many more witnesses claimed to not know. Yet another theory is that the first shot was one fired by the British, that killed Asahel Porter, their prisoner who was running away (he had been told to walk away and he would be let go, though he panicked and began to run). Historian David Hackett Fischer has proposed that there may actually have been multiple near-simultaneous shots. Historian Mark Urban claims the British surged forward with bayonets ready in an undisciplined way, provoking a few scattered shots from the militia. In response the British troops, without orders, fired a devastating volley. This lack of discipline among the British troops had a key role in the escalation of violence.

Nobody except the person responsible knew then, nor knows today with certainty, who fired the first shot of the American Revolution.

Witnesses at the scene described several intermittent shots fired from both sides before the lines of regulars began to fire volleys without receiving orders to do so. A few of the militiamen believed at first that the regulars were only firing powder with no ball, but when they realized the truth, few if any of the militia managed to load and return fire. The rest wisely ran for their lives.

Apr 19 2013

Breaking News: Possible Arrests In Boston Marathon Bombings

Up Date 08:00 EDT: The two suspects have been identified as brothers who have been living legally in the US:

The suspects are Chechen brothers with the last name Tsarnaev, law enforcement officials told NBC News. The suspect at large, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is 19, was born in Kyrgyzstan and has a Massachusetts driver’s license, they said. The dead suspect was identified as Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, born in Russia.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was run over by a vehicle during the firefight, law enforcement officials told NBC News. Law enforcement officials also told NBC News that the brothers entered the United States in 2002 or 2003, and that Tamerlan Tsarnaev became a legal permanent resident in 2007. [..]

Law enforcement officials said the tumult began just before 11 p.m., when the suspects approached a police officer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and shot him in the head.

The two then stole the officer’s cruiser, robbed a nearby 7-Eleven, carjacked a Mercedes SUV and briefly kidnapped the driver, the sources said. The suspects threw explosives out the window during the chase that followed, they said. A Boston transit police officer was shot and wounded, authorities said.

Up Date 06:05 EDT: From The Guardian:

All public transport has been suspended including buses and subways in the Massachusetts Bay area – Boston and the surrounding areas – it was announced. People at stations were asked to “please go home” and not congregate waiting for the system to come back.

The authorities want the residents of Watertown, Newton, Waltham, Bellamont, Cambridge, and the Austin and Brighton neighbourhoods of Boston to stay indoors for the time being. They are also asking businesses there not to open.

The person who was identified as suspect #1 came into  the hospital in “traumatic arrest” and was pronounced dead at 01:35 EDT. He died of multiple gunshot wounds and blast injuries. Suspect #2 is still at large. He is considered armed and extremely dangerous.

Up Date 04:57 EDT: The Guardian is reporting that one of the suspects was shot and killed as per police at a news conference. The other is still at large.

A shooting late last night on the campus of MIT that left a campus police officer dead and a shoot out in Watertown, MA with explosions, may be related to the deadly bombing at the Boston Marathon. The FBI released photos of two suspects in that case.

There are a lot of conflicting reports that about these two incidents and whether or not they are related to each other or the marathon explosions. There is one person in custody but it is unknown if this person one of the suspects.

One suspect apprehended, another remains on the loose

By Wesley Lowery, Akilah Johnson, Eric Moskowitz and Lisa Wangsness, The Boston Globe

WATERTOWN, MA – One suspect in Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings has been captured, according to an official with knowledge of the investigation. Another remains on the loose in Watertown after a firefight with police. Authorities have established a 20-block perimeter as they search for him.

A scene of chaos descended on Cambridge and Watertown late Thursday night and early Friday morning, as police confirmed an MIT police officer was shot and killed, and an apparent carjacking led police on a wild chase into Watertown.

Witnesses in Watertown said they heard explosions. Police officers were screaming about improvised explosive devices.

Authorities would not comment on whether the events were connected to Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings. At least one of the suspects in Watertown appeared to be a man in his 20s.

Here is the live feed from MSNBC. The commentators are being very cautious in their reporting.

Here is the live feed from The Guardian.

Update from Think Progress

Law enforcement officials believe that one suspect in Monday’s bombing of the Boston Marathon was killed Friday morning after a shootout and car chase with police, while the other is still on the loose. NBC’s Pete Williams reports that the two are brothers, age 19 and 20, and are legal permanent residents of the United States, living in Cambridge. The first suspect was taken into custody by police and was pronounced dead at Beth Israel Hospital at 1:35 AM. As many as nine thousand police officers are now conducting a door-to-door search for the second individual, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev according to NBC, and are asking residents to stay in their homes.

The two robbed a 7/11, killed a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus police officer in his car after 10 PM on Thursday night and later carjacked a Mercedes SUV. Pete Williams of NBC News reports that the suspects told the man that they killed a police officer and were the marathon bombers. The owner of the car was held at gunpoint for 30 minutes and later released near a gas station in Cambridge.

The men then led police on a chase to Watertown, where they exchanged gunfire and threw bombs out of the vehicle window at law enforcement, including one made from a pressure cooker. They stopped the car in Watertown, where the first suspect got out, was shot and likely detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) strapped to his chest. The second suspect drives on and later abandons the car.

Apr 19 2013

Stop CISPA Moves to the Senate

Stop CISPA The controversial data sharing bill, Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) was passed by the House by a vote of 288 – 127, as 92 Democrats voted for the bill, while 29 Republicans voted against it. The bill passed without the privacy protections that civil liberties advocates felt were necessary, an objection that was echoed by the White House with a veto threat earlier this week. An attempt by the lead sponsors of the bill, Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), offered an amendment to mollify the objections but privacy advocates stated that it fell short of what was needed to safeguard an individual’s right to privacy.

Amendments that were proposed to protect Fourth Amendment rights were not even allowed debate by the rules committee:

Rep. Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat, proposed a one-sentence amendment (PDF) that would have required the National Security Agency, the FBI, Homeland Security, and other agencies to secure a “warrant obtained in accordance with the Fourth Amendment” before searching a database for evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Grayson complained this morning on Twitter that House Republicans “wouldn’t even allow debate on requiring a warrant before a search.” [..]

CISPA is controversial because it overrules all existing federal and state laws by saying “notwithstanding any other provision of law,” including privacy policies and wiretap laws, companies may share cybersecurity-related information “with any other entity, including the federal government.” It would not, however, require them to do so. [..]

Because Grayson’s amendment was not permitted, CISPA will allow the federal government to compile a database of information shared by private companies and search that information for possible violations of hundreds, if not thousands, of criminal laws. [..]

“The government could use this information to investigate gun shows” and football games because of the threat of serious bodily harm if accidents occurred, Polis said. “What do these things even have to do with cybersecurity?… From football to gun show organizing, you’re really far afield.”

At the heart of CISPA is warrantless searches a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment which reads:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

This has had a strange effect of uniting the left and right in the opposition to the bill. The Tea Party aligned group Freedom Works issued this statement:

CISPA would allow for more information sharing between the private sector and the federal government regarding cyber security. Although this year’s CISPA is a net improvement over last year’s bill, it still leaves open concerns about private information being shared in the name of national security.

There are grave Fourth Amendment concerns with CISPA. The bill would override existing privacy laws to allow companies to share “cyber threat information” with the federal government without making any reasonable effort to strip out any personal information from the file.

They even have a site to actively Stop CISPA along with the ACLU and the Electronic Freedom Foundation. Strange bedfellows, indeed.

Passage in the Senate without addition of privacy protections is doubtful but one never knows:

The discussion now shifts to the Democrat-controlled Senate, which appears unlikely to act on the legislation in the wake of a presidential veto threat earlier this week, and an executive order in January that may reduce the need for new legislation. Today’s House vote, on the other hand, could increase pressure on the Senate to enact some sort of legislation.

Sen. John Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat who was involved in last year’s cybersecurity debate, said after today’s vote that “CISPA’s privacy protections are insufficient.” Still, Rockefeller said, “I believe we can gain bipartisan agreement on bills that we can report out of our committees and allow [Majority Leader Harry Reid] to bring them to the Senate floor as early as possible.”

We urge everyone to keep the pressure on the Senate and the White House by calling and e-mailing your objections:

The White House switchboard is 202-456-1414.

The comments line is 202-456-1111.

The White House email address is here

Numbers for the Senate are here.

E-mail addresses for the Senate are here

Please be polite and on point.

The late internet activist Aaron Swartz called CISPA the “The Patriot Act of the Internet”.

Contact the White House and your Senators to protect your privacy rights.