Obama’s Google Hangout Wins Over Republican Questioner

If you watched President Obama’s Google+ hangout Monday night, you saw two interesting exchanges between the president and Jennifer Wedel, a 29-year-old Texas mother of two.

It turns out that Wedel’s digital meeting convinced her to vote for Obama in this year’s presidential election — despite her support for the GOP.

This is a truly awesome example of digital engagement, and the democratizing effect of technology, at work.

Throw the Bums Out and Ban Them From Lobbying

Let’s take The STOCK Act, authored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.), which would ban trading by members of Congress guided by “nonpublic economic or political information.” The problem with the bill? As The Huffington Post reported on Jan. 26, while the legislation bans trading, it does not bar legislators from returning favors for companies whose stock they hold. Sen. Scott Brown, who owns up to $50,000 of Bank of America stock, used his leverage to not only carve out an exemption to the Volcker Rule that allows banks to keep betting in the securities markets with taxpayer money but axed a plan that would have required banks to pay into an emergency fund to cover the costs of their failures.

So you can bet that when justifiably outraged voters replace Brown with Elizabeth Warren, he’ll simply shrug it off since he’ll look forward to a cushy job as a lobbyist for the banking industry.

This level of corruption is why nothing gets accomplished on Capitol Hill, whether it’s campaign finance reform or financial dis-services reform. What typically happens when the members of Congress in charge of election reform have a discussion about it? In a 2006 hearing before the Senate Governmental Affairs committee in which the topic was dispensing contributions to members so they’ll vote a certain way, not only did only two of the 16 members sit through the hearing but the man designated to draft a reform bill was now-presidential candidate Rick Santorum. In 2006 Santorum led all federal candidates in contributions from lobbyists and family members, taking in roughly $500,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). While in office, Santorum held regular breakfast meetings with K Street power players, which included circulating a list of open jobs at trade associations.

This is seriously scary stuff. It seems like corruption is built into our leglative system at the most fundamental level. When even the people who are supposed to directly represent us can’t be held accountable for their actions, the people, and the nation itself, begins to be held hostage by forces outside Constitutional control. Is it too late to reverse the tide of Washington insider trading?

Siri’s Data Conundrum: Dueling opinions from The Washington Post, GigaOm

Cell and data networks are like any common resource; they have limits. And once they hit their limit, regardless of which group is using its share and then some, there’s no more to go around.

This means that Siri’s data-hogging ways are a problem for more than just those willing to foot the bill. As networks become congested, everyone’s service deteriorates. Private desire becomes a public issue. Calls are dropped or never completed; Internet access slows. First-class airline passengers don’t really compromise service for those in coach. But bandwidth hogs do.

Other than Siri’s incessant “Sorry, I can’t connect to the network right now.” these concerns seem a little overblown, at least in early 2012.

In fact, much of his premise – that nothing can be done about it – was easily refuted almost completely by a subsequent GigaOm posting, which clearly laid out some very serious flaws in the author’s argument.

But I take the author’s point – how long can we expect to keep driving up the very upper end of data consumption for the tech savvy, while not increasing costs for everyone across the board?

Humans Lose, Robots Win in New Defense Budget

The big loser in the Pentagon’s new budget? Ordinary human beings.

About 80,000 Army soldiers and 20,000 Marines are getting downsized. Half of the Army’s conventional combat presence in Europe is packing up and ending its post-Cold War staycation. Replacing them, according to the $613 billion budget previewed by the Pentagon on Thursday: unconventional special-operations forces; new bombers; new spy tools; new missiles for subs; and a veritable Cylon army of drones.

This is the first of the Pentagon’s new, smaller “austerity” budgets: it’s asking Congress for $525 billion (plus $88.4 billion for the Afghanistan war), compared to a $553 billion request (plus $117 billion in war cash) last year.

The idea of replacing human combatants with machines terrifies me. When the results of war are so disconnected from the actual citizens involved in the decision to make war, what stops us from engaging in military actions? The Vietnam War was eventually ended because of the cold reality of Americans seeing American body bags coming home, but what heartstrings would a broken machine body pull at?

Similarly, increasing the budget for mechanized warfare will only strengthen the grasp of the military-industrial complex, for as the perceived benefits outweight the potential sacrifice of human life, combined with the number of jobs and absurd level of profits to be had from producing these war machines, I can’t imagine the trend reversing anmy time soon. You can’t manufacture humans (per se), but you can manufacture mechanized, remote-controlled soldiers now, apparently.

As the technology becomes more proficient, these tools will undoubtedly become more accurate – meaning, fewer collateral civilian casualties for military strikes – which means they’ll be perceived as safer, leading to a positive feedback cycle. But whereas human soldiers can distinguish between a real enemy and a civilain far more accurately, relying on any number of real-world cues, machines will destroy whatever they’re aimed at without regard for potential errors in judgement. Soon, we’ll start hearing more about “acceptable losses” and “military-civilain death ratios” in terms of these unmanned strikes. And reducing warfare to a numbers game, is, in my opinion, completely unacceptable.

Without the remorse of traditional person-to-person warfare, without the moral restriction on civilian casualty, and with an absurdly high profit margin at work, will our humanity be left behind as we continue to engage in worldwide wars on multiple fronts? Can we really stomach the idea of killing foreigners for our own ideology, when we put nothing of ourselves at risk as well?

Google tracks consumers’ online activities across products, and users can’t opt out

The Web giant announced Tuesday that it plans to follow the activities of users across nearly all of its ubiquitous sites, including YouTube, Gmail and its leading search engine.

Google has already been collecting some of this information. But for the first time, it is combining data across its Web sites to stitch together a fuller portrait of users.

Consumers who are logged into Google services won’t be able to opt out of the changes, which take effect March 1. And experts say the policy shift will invite greater scrutiny from federal regulators of the company’s privacy and competitive practices.

Sounds creepy, and while beneficial, I still find it a little jarring to see advertisements pop up in my GMail account that are clearly generated by a keyword search of the email I’m looking at.

It’s also not very smart. No, Google, I’m just talking to my friend Victoria — not looking for sexy panties.

Why the GOP’s Mission is to Un-elect Obama: Racism, Pure and Simple [Graph]

despite the Obama administration’s race neutral agenda over the last three years, four nationally representative surveys conducted in the last nine months—two by YouGov and two commissioned by the American National Election Study—suggest that racial resentment will be just as strong, if not a stronger, determinant of opposition to Obama in 2012.  Indeed, the figure below shows that the most racially resentful were roughly 70 percentage points less supportive of Obama’s reelection than racially sympathetic whites, even after controlling for the fact that Republicans and conservatives are more likely to score high on racial resentment in the first place. 

 

When has a party ever made it’s goal so personal, so vitriolic, as to completely ignore substantial issues and focus on cosmetic peripherals? I’ve said from the beginning, there is no other explanation for the way Obama is treated, than his race. An equally qualified, well-spoken, idealistic white guy (maybe even a white woman) wouldn’t get the kind of gutter talk he’s dealt with for years.

But I guess that’s the point — I firmly believe his position as somewhat of an outsider, in terms of status, privelage, beliefs, and yes, race – position him as the ideal man to turn this boat around, and get things changed for the better.

Gobama!

Jailbreaking Is Not A Crime: Tell the Copyright Office to Free Your Devices! via @eff

The Problem – Smartphones, tablets, and video game consoles are powerful computers with lots of untapped potential. Yet many of these devices are set up to run only software that’s been approved by the manufacturer.  Modifying a device to run independent software – known as jailbreaking – is important to programmers, enthusiasts, and users. But jailbreaking creates legal uncertainty. Some device manufacturers claim that jailbreaking violates Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which carries stiff penalties.

The Solution – EFF is asking the U.S. Copyright Office to declare that jailbreaking does not violate the DMCA, and we need your help. In 2010, the Copyright Office said jailbreaking smartphones doesn’t violate the DMCA.  This year, we’re asking them to renew that exemption (otherwise it will expire) and expand it to cover tablets. We’re also asking for a new exemption to allow jailbreaking of video game consoles.

Please help the EFF fight for your rights by clicking through the link and submitting your own documentation of how jailbreaking enables you to do work, better!  I’m attaching an example of my own letter to the office, below:

Warrantless GPS Tracking Unconstitutional, Supreme Court Rules via @HuffingtonPost

The installation of a GPS tracking device onto a suspect’s car constitutes a search — and therefore requires a warrant — the Supreme Court unanimously held on Monday morning. The justices, however, employed radically different rationales to come to their answer, leaving unsettled the question of how much protection one may expect from the Fourth Amendment in the digital age.

I’ve been following this case very closely; with the increasing reach of technology in our everyday lives, I’m very proud to see that the Supreme Court has overturned the absurd decision of the state courts that police investigators could esssentially ‘bug’ a person’s location via a GPS device, without their knowledge, or any legally sustainaible probable cause.

Had this ruling been upheld, we’d be one step closer to a Minority Report-like future, where our devices could at any moment be used against us, which would inevitably stifle both adoption of technology, and innovation across the industry.

It also affirms that the land’s highest Court is still more in-touch with technology than our own Representatives, a trend which I find both uplifting and terrifying. It’s clear to me, that the for-life appointment term reduces the power lobbyists and 3rd party monies can have on the legal system, which allows them not to be swayed by public opinion or extra-judicial concerns, like our Representatives clearly are. Hopefully some day soon, our own elected officials will be held to a similar standard.

Anonymous Goes on Megaupload Revenge Spree: DoJ, RIAA, MPAA, Offline

Update: Anonymous says they’ve also knocked off the RIAA’s site—looks down for us at the moment as well.

Update 2: Universal Music Group has also fallen off an e-cliff.

Update 3: Goodbye for now, MPAA.org.

Update 4: Affected sites are bouncing in and out of life, and are at the very least super slow to load. Anon agents are currently trying to coordinate their DDoS attacks in the same direction via IRC.

Update 5: The US Copyright Office joins the list.

Update 6: This Anon sums up the mood in their “official” chat room at the moment:

Danzu: STOP EVERYTHING, who are we DoSing right now?

Update 7: Russian news service RT claims this is the largest coordinated attack in Anonymous’ history—over 5,600 DDoS zealots blasting at once.

Update 8: the Anonymous DDoS planning committee is chittering so quickly, it’s making my laptop fan spin.

Update 9: Major record label EMI is down for the count.

Update 10: La résistance est international—French copyright authority HADOPI bites the dust under Anon pressure.

Update 11: The Federal Bureau of Investigation has fallen and can’t get up.

Update 12: Anonymous has released a statement about today’s attacks.

Kudos, Anonymous. Kinda embarassing to see how fragile these websites are, and inspiring to see how powerful the masses are.

On the downside, it comes across as unfocused, childish rage, so I’m not sure what the point of that is, exactly.

It would sure be nice to see some of these Anonymous ringleaders put their work to developing tools like the BlackoutSOPA team did, to help other people who don’t want to hack/DDOS understand how to deal with the issues they’re struggling with.