Daily Archive: 01/03/2014

Jan 03 2014

Report from the Chaos Communication Congress

By Democracy Now featuring Julian Assange, Sarah Harrison, and Jacob Appelbaum.

Jan 03 2014

Raiding Worker Pensions to Balance the Budget

Hidden disaster in new budget: Demonic plot to raid pensions

Journalist David Dayen, explains how Illinois and other states are breaking contracts with workers and slashing pensions, why workers won’t be protected by Social Security, how large are the cuts workers are facing, why public sector workers are demonized, why public pensions funds are financially safer and more politically active, how the Murray Ryan budget deal slashes federal workers pensions, why federal workers are paying the price for small reversals in sequestration and why we are almost at the Ryan far right budget.

Dayen gave a detailed explanation how these cuts hurt not just military pensions but the pensions of every federal employee who inspects our food, works in veterans hospitals, investigates crimes at the FBI and generally ensures the smooth functioning of essential government services.

What you won’t hear about this new deal: Public workers will get eviscerated, to achieve “deficit reduction”

2013 has not been a pleasant year if you work for the federal government. You’ve been subject to pay freezes, furloughs and shutdowns. One of you got yelled at by a Tea Party Republican at the World War II memorial. And if Congress passes the budget deal announced Tuesday night by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray – a big if – you will get a final Christmas present: You’ll have to pay more into your pension, an effective wage cut that just adds to the $114 billion, with a “B,” federal employees have already given back to the government in the name of deficit reduction.

The deal between House and Senate negotiators Ryan and Murray would reverse part of sequestration for 2014 and 2015, itself a major source of pain for federal workers. But negotiators want to pay for that relief in future years, with the overall package cutting the deficit by an additional $23 billion. And one of the major “pay-fors” is an increase in federal employee pension contributions. President Obama’s 2014 budget included such a proposal, which would have raised the employee contribution in three stages, from 0.8 percent of salary to 2 percent. Congress had already made this shift for new hires; the Obama proposal would affect all workers hired before 2012.

That proposed increased contribution translated to a 1.2 percent pay cut, and a total of around $20 billion in givebacks over 10 years. Negotiators were pressured by the powerful Maryland Democratic delegation, including Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen and Senate Appropriations Committee chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, into softening the blow on federal employees, many of whom live in their districts. According to Sen. Murray, the increase in contributions now equals about $6 billion over 10 years. But negotiators traded some of the cuts to federal employee pensions with different cuts to military pensions, also totaling $6 billion. So whatever the occupation, people who work for the government will bear the brunt of the pain.

 

Jan 03 2014

Could Snowden Get a Fair Trial in the US

NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake and Jessalyn Raddack, Edward Snowden’s legal adviser appeared on Meet the Press, December 29, discussed the NSA leaks by Snowden and why they believe that he could not get a fair trial in this country.

In editorials over New Year’s Day, the New York Times and The Guardian called on President Barack Obama to grant Edward Snowden some form of clemency or a pardon to allow him to return home.

Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower

By The New York Times Editorial Board

Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.  [..]

The shrill brigade of his critics say Mr. Snowden has done profound damage to intelligence operations of the United States, but none has presented the slightest proof that his disclosures really hurt the nation’s security. Many of the mass-collection programs Mr. Snowden exposed would work just as well if they were reduced in scope and brought under strict outside oversight, as the presidential panel recommended.

When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government. That’s why Rick Ledgett, who leads the N.S.A.’s task force on the Snowden leaks, recently told CBS News that he would consider amnesty if Mr. Snowden would stop any additional leaks. And it’s why President Obama should tell his aides to begin finding a way to end Mr. Snowden’s vilification and give him an incentive to return home.

Snowden affair: the case for a pardon

The Guardian Editorial, Comment is Free

Snowden gave classified information to journalists, even though he knew the likely consequences. That was an act of courage

Mr Snowden gave classified information to journalists, even though he knew the likely consequences. That was an act of some moral courage. Presidents – from Franklin Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan – have issued pardons. The debate that Mr Snowden has facilitated will no doubt be argued over in the US supreme court. If those justices agree with Mr Obama’s own review panel and Judge Richard Leon in finding that Mr Snowden did, indeed, raise serious matters of public importance which were previously hidden (or, worse, dishonestly concealed), is it then conceivable that he could be treated as a traitor or common felon? We hope that calm heads within the present administration are working on a strategy to allow Mr Snowden to return to the US with dignity, and the president to use his executive powers to treat him humanely and in a manner that would be a shining example about the value of whistleblowers and of free speech itself.

Attorney for Julian Assange and President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York discussed how the New York Times Editorial should have also supported other whistleblowers with Real News Network’s Jaisal Noor.



Full transcript can be read here

Jan 03 2014

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

Bob Garfield: Who needs facts? We appear to be in the Post-Information Age now

Evidence? Ha. That’s for humanists, scientists and who knows what other dangerous-ists. It’s all about how we feel now

Remember the Information Age? That was such an interesting period, when digital technology and the thirst for understanding converged to give the human race unprecedented access to heaps of revealing data, contemporaneous and historical. All you had to do was analyze the information without prejudice and the secrets of the world unfolded before you – from the human genome to weekend crime in your town, from the value of the two-out stolen base to the origin of the universe.

But nothing lasts forever. Objective analysis is just so 2013. Facts are over, replaced by feelings and free-floating certainty. Sure, so-called Big Data will get bigger still, but only in service of targeted diaper advertising and spying on citizens. For everything that matters, as of now, we are smack in the Post-Information Age.

Amy Goodman: Congress to the Unemployed: Eat Confetti

Is this really how we want to start the new year, by denying unemployment benefits to more than a million Americans who have lost their jobs? The bipartisan budget agreement passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama protects military spending, but promises to throw the most desperate in our economy into increased financial hardship, thrusting hundreds of thousands of families beneath the poverty line. The long-term unemployment rate is at the highest it has been since World War II, while the percentage of those receiving the benefits is at its historic low. Meanwhile, Wall Street bankers are popping the corks, celebrating a banner year for the stock market. As brokers await their bonuses, many more of the unemployed will head for the breadlines.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: “Jobs or Inequality”? That’s No Choice at All

What’s the economic issue we should focus on – jobs, or inequality? An increasing number of people, including the President and New York’s new mayor, have suggested that inequality of wealth and opportunity is the defining issue of our time.

But some of the folks at the Washington Post’s “WonkBlog” are having none of it. First editor Ezra Klein declared that unemployment, not inequality, should be the left’s defining issue. That drew responses from the likes of Paul Krugman and Jared Bernstein (and yours truly, here). [..]

But why are we arguing about hypothetical futures and ignoring the very real present? We’re still in a situation where the “multiplier effect” – the amount of growth which can be achieved through government spending – is very high. The situation cries out for higher taxation on the wealthy and corporations, coupled with investment in jobs and growth. In other words, it calls out for the very same policies which would reduce inequality.

In the end it’s one challenge, not two or three.

Jill Filipovic: The nuns’ Obamacare contraception lawsuit isn’t about religious freedom

Catholic groups claim that filling out a form violates their beliefs. But they really want to mandate that we share the same values

Does religious liberty extend to the right to not have to fill out paperwork? That’s the latest position religious organizations are taking against the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It’s crazy, yes. But, welcome to the future of “religious freedom” litigation.

On New Years Eve, supreme court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued an injunction blocking the Obama administration from implementing the aspect of the ACA known as the “contraception mandate”, which requires employee insurance plans to cover a range of preventative women’s health needs. The government has until today to respond. The injunction itself is standard legal procedure, and says little about how Sotomayor or the rest of the court will rule on the merits of the case. But the lawsuit itself, and the related suits challenging the contraception mandate, offer an increasingly troubling look at just how far peddlers of far-right ideology will go not just to claim their own right to live according to their beliefs, but to mandate that you and I do the same.

Dirk van Zyl Smit: Even life prisoners should have hope and a chance to change

Considering someone for release is not the same as releasing them. David Cameron’s proposed 100-year sentence would be much like a death penalty

Why would one consider releasing someone who committed a heinous murder and was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment? This is not a question that troubles everyone. The prime minister, for example, was quoted on Thursday as saying: “There are some people who commit such dreadful crimes that they should be sent to prison and life should mean life.” He clearly supports the current system where, in particularly serious cases, a court may add a whole life order to a sentence of life imprisonment and thus prevent release ever being considered.

The question is not so easily dismissed, however. A commitment that we will never consider the release of some offenders serving life sentences, except perhaps when they are at death’s door, means that we write them off permanently. It means that we deny that with the passage of time they may change for the better; or that we may change our assessment of their crimes.

Worse still, we are denying some fellow humans all hope. In that sense we are putting them in the same position as those awaiting execution on death row.

E. J. Dionne, Jr.: The Resurgent Progressives

The re-emergence of a Democratic left will be one of the major stories of 2014. Moderates, don’t be alarmed. The return of a viable, vocal left will actually be good news for the political center.

For a long time, the American conversation has been terribly distorted by the existence of an active, uncompromising political right unbalanced by a comparably influential left. As a result, our entire debate has been dragged more and more in a conservative direction, meaning that the center is pushed that way too.

Consider what this means in practice. Obamacare is not a left-wing program, no matter how often conservatives might say it is. Its structure is based on conservative ideas. The individual mandate was the conservatives’ alternative to a mandate on employers. The health care exchanges are an alternative to government-provided medicine on the Medicare model.

Jan 03 2014

On This Day In History January 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.

January 3 is the third day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 362 days remaining until the end of the year (363 in leap years). The Perihelion, the point in the year when the Earth is closest to the Sun, occurs around this date.

On this day in 1938, The March of Dimes is established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

March of Dimes is an American health charity whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality.

Polio was one of the most dreaded illnesses of the 20th century, and killed or paralyzed thousands of Americans during the first half of the 20th century. In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt founded the March of Dimes as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis on January 3, 1938. Roosevelt himself was paralyzed with what at the time was believed to be polio, though recent examination has led some to suggest that this diagnosis might have been mistaken. The original purpose of the Foundation was to raise money for polio research and to care for those afflicted with the disease. The name emphasized the national, nonpartisan, and public nature of the new organization, as opposed to private foundations established by wealthy families. The effort began with a radio appeal, asking everyone in the nation to contribute a dime (ten cents) to fight polio.

“March of Dimes” was originally the name of the annual fundraising event held in January by the Foundation. The name “March of Dimes” for the fundraising campaign was coined by entertainer Eddie Cantor as a play on the popular newsreel feature of the day, The March of Time. Along with Cantor, many prominent Hollywood, Broadway, radio, and television stars served as promoters of the charity. When Roosevelt died in office in 1945, he was commemorated by placing his portrait on the dime. Coincidentally, this was the only coin in wide circulation which had a purely allegorical figure (Liberty) on the obverse. To put Roosevelt on any other coin would have required displacing a president or founding father.

Over the years, the name “March of Dimes” became synonymous with that of the charity and was officially adopted in 1979.

Jan 03 2014

Why Quantum Computing is not a threat… yet.

Though the math is hard the concept of Quantum Mechanics is easily graspable by most intelligent individuals.  The key is realizing that what you think of as reality isn’t really very real at all, and is instead the product of your observation.

The classic case is of course Schrödinger’s cat where the cat is either alive or dead based on a quantum state that theoretically can not be known until you measure it at which time it’s resolved in a binary fashion.  The cat is either alive OR dead.

Of course common sense tells you that any cat you keep locked up in a box since 1935 is pretty surely dead, but quantum mechanics is designed for the study of very small and ephemeral items like photons at which it has amazingly useful predictive value.

Now that’s all very well and good, but what has physicists scratching their heads is the asymmetry of the forces we see working on a large scale, like cats for instance, and the distinct lack of anti-cats (cats made of anti-matter) when at a quantum level there is no reason to favor one over the other.

Another puzzler is that in the Standard Model (that’s why the Higg’s Boson is such a big deal is that it confirms the Standard Model) Quantum Entities are most often created in pairs and it is possible to infer the value of one member of such a pair by examining the other regardless of the distance between them.

Yup, faster than the speed of light.

Now one of the interesting limitations of modern computers is that they use electrons to store and process information and electrons, while fast, are no faster than light speed.  The late great Grace Hooper used to carry around 11.8 in lengths of copper wire to illustrate how far a nanosecond was.  If you read the specifications of RAM a speed of 8 or 9 nanoseconds (which is pretty gosh darn fast actually) means an electron can travel no more than about 8 feet.

Quantum computing erases that speed limit (in addition to some other wackier things like storing information in several dimensional states instead of a simple binary on/off condition).

In any event the NSA has been experimenting with quantum computing in the hopes of solving the most difficult encryption available in reasonable amounts of time instead of some point after the heat death of the Universe.

Despite the scary title the good news from this report is that they haven’t gotten much farther along than anyone else.

NSA seeks to build quantum computer that could crack most types of encryption

By Steven Rich and Barton Gellman, Washinton Post

Thursday, January 2, 4:24 PM

The development of a quantum computer has long been a goal of many in the scientific community, with revolutionary implications for fields like medicine as well as for the NSA’s code-breaking mission. With such technology, all forms of public key encryption would be broken, including those used on many secure Web sites as well as the type used to protect state secrets.

Physicists and computer scientists have long speculated whether the NSA’s efforts are more advanced than those of the best civilian labs. Although the full extent of the agency’s research remains unknown, the documents provided by Snowden suggest that the NSA is no closer to success than others in the scientific community.



Quantum computing is so difficult to attain because of the fragile nature of such computers. In theory, the building blocks of such a computer might include individual atoms, photons or electrons. To maintain the quantum nature of the computer, these particles would need to be carefully isolated from their external environments.

“Quantum computers are extremely delicate, so if you don’t protect them from their environment, then the computation will be useless,” said Daniel Lidar, a professor of electrical engineering and the director of the Center for Quantum Information Science and Technology at the University of Southern California.

This is of course due to their quantum nature.  Once someone, anyone, looks at the cat they’re either alive or dead.