Daily Archive: 06/03/2013

Jun 03 2013

Ebooks need to re-invent Pulp!

Ebooks have revolutionized the publishing revolution and YOU TOO can be part of the Revolution!

In Burning the Page, digital pioneer Jason Merkoski charts the ebook revolution’s striking impact on the ways in which we create, discover, and share ideas. From the sleek halls of Silicon Valley to the jungles of Southeast Asia, Merkoski explores how ebooks came to be and predicts innovative and interactive ways digital content will shape our lives. Throughout, you are invited to continue the conversation online and help shape this exciting new world of “Reading 2.0.” 

It seems as if one way to make money with ebooks is to first make money with ebooks and then write an ebook about how to make money with ebooks.

Tobias Buckell, Science Fiction author with work first published in both tradtional and new ebook market makes a cautionary point about these kinds of works:

Survivorship bias: why 90% of the advice about writing is bullshit right now

The problem, right now, in eBook direct sales, is that everyone is paying and listening to people in the green area. They’re listening to everything they say, and sifting everything they say as if it’s a formula for success. 

Like in most cultish behavior, if you follow the rules and don’t get the results, you’re either ostracized, ignored, or it’s pretended you don’t exist. Many who don’t get the same results just shut up and go away. Thus creating an environment where people are creating massive amounts of confirmation bias by continually listening to the top sellers.

(BTW: Read the whole piece, its good stuff, and survivorship bias is a useful critical thinking tool in a wide range of areas, including policy campaigns.)

Jun 03 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 Geezers Are All Right

Last month the Congressional Budget Office released its much-anticipated projections for debt and deficits, and there were cries of lamentation from the deficit scolds who have had so much influence on our policy discourse. The problem, you see, was that the budget office numbers looked, well, O.K.: deficits are falling fast, and the ratio of debt to gross domestic product is projected to remain roughly stable over the next decade. Obviously it would be nice, eventually, to actually reduce debt. But if you’ve built your career around proclamations of imminent fiscal doom, this definitely wasn’t the report you wanted to see.

Still, we can always count on the baby boomers to deliver disaster, can’t we? Doesn’t the rising tide of retirees mean that Social Security and Medicare are doomed unless we radically change those programs now now now?

Maybe not.

Lori Wallach and Ben Beachy: Obama’s Covert Trade Deal

THE Obama administration has often stated its commitment to open government. So why is it keeping such tight wraps on the contents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the most significant international commercial agreement since the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995?

The agreement, under negotiation since 2008, would set new rules for everything from food safety and financial markets to medicine prices and Internet freedom. It would include at least 12 of the countries bordering the Pacific and be open for more to join. President Obama has said he wants to sign it by October. [..]

This covert approach is a major problem because the agreement is more than just a trade deal. Only 5 of its 29 chapters cover traditional trade matters, like tariffs or quotas. The others impose parameters on nontrade policies. Existing and future American laws must be altered to conform with these terms, or trade sanctions can be imposed against American exports.

New York Times Editorial Board: Time to Change Military Justice

In his commencement address at the United States Military Academy late last month, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urged the newest graduates of the two-centuries-old academy to help stamp out the “scourge” of sexual assaults in the military. His call had special resonance. It had been revealed just days before that a sergeant responsible for advising cadets had been charged with secretly videotaping female cadets in the shower – just one of an alarming cascade of incidents in recent weeks evidencing the depth, frequency and sheer brazenness of the military’s sexual misconduct problem. [..]

The issue will get an airing Tuesday at a hearing convened by Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, to consider possible changes in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, using the annual defense authorization bill as a vehicle. The question, however, is whether Congress will undertake the broad reforms necessary to encourage more victims to come forward and to show that legislators take seriously the pledge of zero tolerance for such crimes that military leaders and successive administrations have been making for decades.

Kumi Naidoo: In Turkey, The Last Tree or the Final Straw?

Our office in Istanbul has been under siege. It is in the heart Taksim, an area in which a brutal police clampdown has been trying to end the peaceful protest over the planned destruction of the small, and historic, Gezi Park by Taksim Square. The protest has grown to involve tens of thousands of people and drawn the support of people from all over the world.

People are travelling from all over Turkey to Taksim, people are gathering elsewhere in the country and around the world in solidarity to say “I am in Gezi” and to say “we are watching and we are horrified by the brutality”.

It is no longer about a handful of trees in a tiny park or the plans to cover it with a shopping mall. But, make no mistake, the fundamental human need for natural spaces over the inexorable march of shopping malls remains an important factor.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: The Truman Show Economy (With a Nod to Philip K. Dick)

A Northern Ireland county made news this week when it literally created a false front of prosperity for dignitaries in town for the G8 conference. The Irish Times reports that County Fermanagh spent roughly £300,000 ($456,000 at today’s exchange rates) to conceal the shuttered storefronts and empty buildings left behind by economy-killing austerity cuts. [..]

It would certainly embarrass British Prime Minister (and austerity extremist) David Cameron to let his peers see the fruits of his economic philosophy in a region which, while largely self-governing, is still part of Great Britain. [..]

The deceptions go on anyway. It’s been a “false-front” economy for nearly five years.  Ireland’s deception was ours, in physical form.

Welcome to The Truman Show economy.

Janet Cotter and Eric Darier: When Will Governments Learn That GE Crops Are Uncontrollable?

Shockwaves are being felt across the world’s wheat markets following the first-ever discovery of unauthorised genetically engineered wheat growing on a US farm – a development that gives further proof that GE crops cannot be controlled.

The discovery of Monsanto’s GE wheat, confirmed by US authorities, sparked alarm among Washington’s trading nations, pushed wheat prices lower and is threatening US exports. It should not be seen, however, as totally unexpected.

The GE wheat is a herbicide tolerant wheat (probably MON 71800) that Monsanto tested in fields across 16 states between 1998 and 2005. The wheat was never authorised and never commercialised because Monsanto withdrew its application in May 2004 following massive global opposition from farmers, consumers and environmentalists.

Jun 03 2013

On This Day In History June 3

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.

Click on image to enlarge

June 3 is the 154th day of the year (155th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 211 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1916, United States President Woodrow Wilson signs into law the National Defense Act, which expanded the size and scope of the National Guard, the network of states’ militias that had been developing steadily since colonial times, and guaranteed its status as the nation’s permanent reserve force.

The National Defense Act of 1916 provided for an expanded army during peace and wartime, fourfold expansion of the National Guard, the creation of an Officers’ and an Enlisted Reserve Corps, plus the creation of a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps in colleges and universities. The President was also given authority, in case of war or national emergency, to mobilize the National Guard for the duration of the emergency.

The act was passed amidst the “preparedness controversy”, a brief frenzy of great public concern over the state of preparation of the United States armed forces, and shortly after Pancho Villa’s cross-border raid on Columbus, New Mexico. Its chief proponent was James Hay of Virginia, the chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs.

Sponsored by Rep. Julius Kahn (R) of California and drafted by the House Chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs Rep. James Hay (D) of Virginia, it authorized an army of 175,000 men, a National Guard of 450,000 men. It created the modern Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and empowered the President to place obligatory orders with manufacturers capable of producing war materials.

Langley Field in Virginia was built as part of the act. Now U.S. Air Force Command HQ as Langley Air Force Base, this “aerodrome” was named after air pioneer Samuel Pierpont Langley (died 1904). The President also requested the National Academy of Sciences to establish the National Research Council to conduct research into the potential of mathematical, biological, and physical science applications for defense. It allocated over $17 million to the Army to build 375 new aeroplanes.

Perhaps most important, it established the right of the President to “Federalize” the National Guard in times of emergency, with individual States’ militias reverting to their control upon the end of the declared emergency. With the Defense Act, Congress was also concerned with ensuring the supply of nitrates (used to make munitions), and it authorized the construction of two nitrate-manufacturing plants and a dam for hydropower as a national defense measure. President Wilson chose Muscle Shoals, Alabama as the site of the dam. The dam was later named for him, and the two Nitrate plants built in Muscle Shoals were later rolled into the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933.

Developments after September 11, 2001

Prior to the attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, the National Guard’s general policy regarding mobilization was that Guardsmen would be required to serve no more than one year cumulative on active duty (with no more than six months overseas) for each five years of regular drill. Due to strains placed on active duty units following the attacks, the possible mobilization time was increased to 18 months (with no more than one year overseas). Additional strains placed on military units as a result of the invasion of Iraq further increased the amount of time a Guardsman could be mobilized to 24 months. Current Department of Defense policy is that no Guardsman will be involuntarily activated for more than 24 months (cumulative) in one six year enlistment period.

Traditionally, most National Guard personnel serve “One weekend a month, two weeks a year”, although personnel in highly operational or high demand units serve far more frequently. Typical examples are pilots, navigators and aircrewmen in active flying assignments, primarily in the Air National Guard and to a lesser extent in the Army National Guard. A significant number also serve in a full-time capacity in roles such as Active Guard and Reserve (AGR) or Air Reserve Technician or Army Reserve Technician (ART).

The “One weekend a month, two weeks a year” slogan has lost most of its relevance since the Iraq War, when nearly 28% of total US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan at the end of 2007 consisted of mobilized personnel of the National Guard and other Reserve components.

Jun 03 2013

Your Neoliberal Future

The Banality of ‘Don’t Be Evil’

By JULIAN ASSANGE, The New York Times Sunday Review

Published: June 1, 2013

“THE New Digital Age” is a startlingly clear and provocative blueprint for technocratic imperialism, from two of its leading witch doctors, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, who construct a new idiom for United States global power in the 21st century. This idiom reflects the ever closer union between the State Department and Silicon Valley, as personified by Mr. Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, and Mr. Cohen, a former adviser to Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton who is now director of Google Ideas.



The book proselytizes the role of technology in reshaping the world’s people and nations into likenesses of the world’s dominant superpower, whether they want to be reshaped or not.



It is not surprising that a respectable cast of the world’s most famous warmongers has been trotted out to give its stamp of approval to this enticement to Western soft power. The acknowledgments give pride of place to Henry Kissinger, who along with Tony Blair and the former C.I.A. director Michael Hayden provided advance praise for the book.



The authors offer an expertly banalized version of tomorrow’s world: the gadgetry of decades hence is predicted to be much like what we have right now – only cooler. … Commodities just become more marvelous; young, urban professionals sleep, work and shop with greater ease and comfort; democracy is insidiously subverted by technologies of surveillance, and control is enthusiastically rebranded as “participation”; and our present world order of systematized domination, intimidation and oppression continues, unmentioned, unafflicted or only faintly perturbed.

The authors are sour about the Egyptian triumph of 2011. They dismiss the Egyptian youth witheringly, claiming that “the mix of activism and arrogance in young people is universal.” Digitally inspired mobs mean revolutions will be “easier to start” but “harder to finish.” Because of the absence of strong leaders, the result, or so Mr. Kissinger tells the authors, will be coalition governments that descend into autocracies. They say there will be “no more springs” (but China is on the ropes).

The authors fantasize about the future of “well resourced” revolutionary groups. A new “crop of consultants” will “use data to build and fine-tune a political figure.”

“His” speeches (the future isn’t all that different) and writing will be fed “through complex feature-extraction and trend-analysis software suites” while “mapping his brain function,” and other “sophisticated diagnostics” will be used to “assess the weak parts of his political repertoire.”



The advance of information technology epitomized by Google heralds the death of privacy for most people and shifts the world toward authoritarianism. … But while Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Cohen tell us that the death of privacy will aid governments in “repressive autocracies” in “targeting their citizens,” they also say governments in “open” democracies will see it as “a gift” enabling them to “better respond to citizen and customer concerns.” In reality, the erosion of individual privacy in the West and the attendant centralization of power make abuses inevitable, moving the “good” societies closer to the “bad” ones.



THE writing is on the wall, but the authors cannot see it. They borrow from William Dobson the idea that the media, in an autocracy, “allows for an opposition press as long as regime opponents understand where the unspoken limits are.”



This book is a balefully seminal work in which neither author has the language to see, much less to express, the titanic centralizing evil they are constructing. “What Lockheed Martin was to the 20th century,” they tell us, “technology and cybersecurity companies will be to the 21st.” Without even understanding how, they have updated and seamlessly implemented George Orwell’s prophecy. If you want a vision of the future, imagine Washington-backed Google Glasses strapped onto vacant human faces – forever.

Obama’s Covert Trade Deal

By LORI WALLACH and BEN BEACHY, The New York Times

Published: June 2, 2013

THE Obama administration has often stated its commitment to open government. So why is it keeping such tight wraps on the contents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the most significant international commercial agreement since the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995?



This covert approach is a major problem because the agreement is more than just a trade deal. Only 5 of its 29 chapters cover traditional trade matters, like tariffs or quotas. The others impose parameters on nontrade policies. Existing and future American laws must be altered to conform with these terms, or trade sanctions can be imposed against American exports.

Remember the debate in January 2012 over the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have imposed harsh penalties for even the most minor and inadvertent infraction of a company’s copyright? The ensuing uproar derailed the proposal. But now, the very corporations behind SOPA are at it again, hoping to reincarnate its terms within the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s sweeping proposed copyright provisions.

From another leak, we know the pact would also take aim at policies to control the cost of medicine. Pharmaceutical companies, which are among those enjoying access to negotiators as “advisers,” have long lobbied against government efforts to keep the cost of medicines down. Under the agreement, these companies could challenge such measures by claiming that they undermined their new rights granted by the deal.

And yet another leak revealed that the deal would include even more expansive incentives to relocate domestic manufacturing offshore than were included in Nafta – a deal that drained millions of manufacturing jobs from the American economy.

The agreement would also be a boon for Wall Street and its campaign to water down regulations put in place after the 2008 financial crisis. Among other things, it would practically forbid bans on risky financial products, including the toxic derivatives that helped cause the crisis in the first place.



So why keep it a secret? Because Mr. Obama wants the agreement to be given fast-track treatment on Capitol Hill. Under this extraordinary and rarely used procedure, he could sign the agreement before Congress voted on it. And Congress’s post-facto vote would be under rules limiting debate, banning all amendments and forcing a quick vote.

Ron Kirk, until recently Mr. Obama’s top trade official, was remarkably candid about why he opposed making the text public: doing so, he suggested to Reuters, would raise such opposition that it could make the deal impossible to sign.



Whatever one thinks about “free trade,” the secrecy of the Trans-Pacific Partnership process represents a huge assault on the principles and practice of democratic governance.

Jun 03 2013

A Discussion of Obama’s “Dirty Wars”

In a fascinating hour and a half, Jeremy Scahill, the National Security Correspondent at The Nation magazine, discusses his book and award winning documentary “Dirty Wars.” Joined by Spencer Ackerman, formerly of “Wired” now National Security Editor for The Guardian, they discuss President Obama’s drone program, preemptive war and the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki and two weeks later, his 16 year old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. They also talk about Obama’s roll in the jailing of Yemeni journalist,  Abdulelah Haider Shaye, for his reporting of the US bombing of  al-Majalah, a impoverished Yemeni village killing 46 people mostly women and children. Later in the talk, Jeremy took written questions from the audience, discussing Blackwater, Eric Prince and as well as the global impact and the legality of the perpetual drone war.

There is another way of looking at Pres. Obama’s speech the other day. And that is, he came out and did a full frontal defense of the US asserting the right to assassinate people around the world. . . that really is the take away. [..]

He is asserting the right of the Unites States to conduct these kinds of operations in perpetuity. [..]

The US does not recognize International Law unless it’s convenient. That true; it’s not a rhetorical statement. . . . There is one set of laws for the rest of the world and there another set of laws for the United States. [..]

There have been attempts to challenge many of these wars by the Center for Constitutional Rights, challenging under the War Powers Act and the idea that Congress cannot give these authorities to the president to wage these wars. The way they’ll get around it is they’ll say well, the Authority to Use Military Force (AUMF), that was passed after 9/11, gives us the right to strike in any country where we determine there be a connection to 9/11 or Al Qaeda.

In some cases now, we are targeting persons who were toddlerson 9/11. How can we say that they were attached to it, So in Obama’s speech, when he says he wants to refine the Authorization for Military force and, ultimately, real it, I think the first step of that is really disturbing. They’re talking about making permanent the sort of perpetual war mentality, probably by removing the language necessitating a connection to 9/11 or to Al Qaeda from it, so they can broaden their justification.

Also this White House, like the Bush/Cheney people, relies very heavily on Article II of the Constitution and an i interpretation that Commander in Chief clause gives the president the right to unilaterally set these policies. . . .They effectively perceive themselves as, on a counter-terrorism and national security issues, to be a dictatorship. And that Congress plays a minimal roll in those operations only funding it and overseeing how the money os spent but not necessarily overseeing the operations themselves.

There are Constitutional law experts that would say that’s a ridiculous interpretation of Article II of the Constitution, but it is being asserted in in  private.

It’s tough to stand up and be principled when someone like Obama is in office. It’s easy when to be against all this war and criminality when Bush/Cheney are there. They’re cartoonish villains.

Your principles are tested when someone like Obama is in office and you have the courage to stand up and say, “no. A principle is a principle and I’m against it when a Democrat does it and I’m against it when a Republican does it.”

There’s no such thing as Democratic cruise missile and a Republican cruise missile.

Jeremy recommended that everyone should watch California’s Democratic Rep. Barbra Lee’s speech on September 7, 2001. She was trembling as she gave one of the most epic speeches of this era. It took tremendous courage to stand up and say, “No.”  She was right then and she is right now.

We need to all stand up for the principles on which this country was founded and on which the current president was elected. It’s not just the economy, stupid, it’s the Republic, if we can keep it..