We don’t have any evidence that data mining has saved lives

Where’s the evidence that data mining saves lives?:

To date, there have been practically no examples of a terrorist plot being pre-emptively thwarted by data mining these huge electronic caches. (Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has said that the metadatabase has helped thwart a terrorist attack “in the last few years,” but the details have not been disclosed.)

When I was writing my book, “The Watchers,” about the rise of these big surveillance systems, I met analyst after analyst who said that data mining tends to produce big, unwieldy masses of potential bad actors and threats, but rarely does it produce a solid lead on a terrorist plot.

Those leads tend to come from more pedestrian investigative techniques, such as interviews and interrogations of detainees, or follow-ups on lists of phone numbers or e-mail addresses found in terrorists’ laptops. That shoe-leather detective work is how the United States has tracked down so many terrorists. In fact, it’s exactly how we found Osama bin Laden.

While I’m certainly against the government having such extensive access to private communications, I do believe that this is one of those cases where there probably are examples of this technology stopping terrorism – but they won’t tell us because that might tell the terrorists what not to do.

But if anyone would know that a terrorist plot was foiled, wouldn’t it be the people that were organizing it to begin with? This seems like a case where the government might as well be open. The terrorists are already going to adapt their tactics to avoid repeating the actions that have gotten them caught. The American people might as well be told why their privacy being taken away is worth it.

Majority of young Americans view gays favorably, though only 38% believe they are born that way

Pew Research has some new polling data on Americans’ views on gays and lesbians in the United States.

I found it very interesting that while 64% of young people (ages 18-29) have a favorable view of gay men and 70% have a favorable view of lesbians, only 38% believe that people are born gay or lesbian.

If anything, I take that as a sign that young Americans are actually more accepting than if it had been the other way around. After all, it means that they’re okay with it even if it did stem from upbringing or choice.

Here are the relevant charts for those interested:

Favorable

Choice

The government needs to spend money in an economic crisis

Austerity Principles, or How to Save an Economy in Crisis:

Automatic stabilizers work. In the U.S., when it comes to fiscal policy in times of economic crisis, there isn’t much disagreement between the political parties. But if a separate debate over the proper size of government is allowed to intrude (as it has), the result is gridlock.

Policy makers should instead agree in advance to a system of automatic stabilizers that kick in during recessions. These include unemployment insurance extensions and relaxed eligibility standards for food stamps when the jobless rate exceeds, say, 6 percent. By the same token, lawmakers could agree to spend, say, 20 percent more on public works programs when unemployment increases. Automatic stabilizers offset about 20 percent of an economic shock after two years, according to research by Federal Reserve economists. The effect is even bigger in Europe, where automatic stabilizers are more prevalent.

Republicans shouldn’t care if the U.S. spends more this year and less next year so long as the permanent size of the government remains the same.

Maybe there wasn’t disagreement between Democrats and the Republicans of yesteryear, but the Tea Party Republicans from 2010 and 2012 would beg to differ. These are the people who would rather jeopardize the health of children than provide the poor with assistance.

If any good has come out of the last 5 years, it’s that there will be a solid case for  stimulus and stabilizers the next time we have a severe recession.

Your communications aren’t private, and you shouldn’t be shocked

The Washington Post: The NSA and FBI know everything you do online, except for Twitter:

PRISM was launched from the ashes of President George W. Bush’s secret program of warrantless domestic surveillance in 2007, after news media disclosures, lawsuits and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court forced the president to look for new authority.

Congress obliged with the Protect America Act in 2007 and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which immunized private companies that cooperated voluntarily with U.S. intelligence collection. PRISM recruited its first partner, Microsoft, and began six years of rapidly growing collection beneath the surface of a roiling national debate on surveillance and privacy. Late last year, when critics in Congress sought changes in the FISA Amendments Act, the only lawmakers who knew about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.

Nine of the largest U.S. internet companies, comprising Silicon Valley’s murderer’s row and the hubs of the vast majority of online communication for the U.S. and the world, are cooperating or have been compelled to work with the NSA and the FBI on widespread surveillance of Americans and ‘foreigners’ in the War on Terror. And that comes on the heels of a report from The Guardian that the NSA has been collecting metadata for every call made through Verizon, and then more revelations that the data collection extends to essentially all telecommunications providers.

So the NSA knows that you call your Mom every other Tuesday. And they probably have a log of that ill-advised Facebook chat you had with your ex-girlfriend three years ago at 2:30 in the morning, even though you hoped that everyone forgot. Apparently this helps catch terrorists.

Hopefully these programs being somewhat out in the open will spark real debate, but the immediate response of top Senate and House officials to the Verizon controversy – full support – does not bode well. And since the Administration’s first response was to announce a hunt for The Guardian‘s source, right in line with the actions that have gotten them in hot water in the past few weeks, it’s doubtful that we’ll see any change to the White House whistleblower policy any time soon.

That President Obama once publicly criticized the executive branch’s monitoring of innocent Americans and then changed his position after gaining access to that power demonstrates an age-old warning of civil libertarians and privacy advocates: once such “temporary” powers are granted or rights taken away, it’s much harder said than done to turn back the clock. In fact, it only makes it easier to erode rights and liberties a little more.

Why the ITC’s ban on Apple importing the iPhone and iPad doesn’t matter

U.S. agency: Apple infringes Samsung patent on older iPhones, iPads:

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled on Tuesday that the Silicon Valley giant had infringed on a patent owned by Samsung that involves the ability of devices to transmit multiple services simultaneously and correctly through 3G wireless technology.

The independent federal agency slapped a ban on the import or sale of the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPad 3G and iPad 2 3G distributed by AT&T, the biggest seller of Apple devices in the United States when Samsung filed its complaint in 2011. The products are assembled in Asia.

U.S. President Barack Obama has 60 days to review the ruling. If he does not veto the order, it will go into effect.

60 days from now, we’ll probably be about two months away from the release of the next iPhone. Assuming that there isn’t a lower-cost iPhone introduced as well, we can assume that in September or October:

  • The iPhone 5S will become the new $199 flagship model.
  • The iPhone 5 will move down to the mid-range $99 position.
  • The iPhone 4S will become the new “free on contract” model.

So the iPhone 4 is either not going to be a factor or will be $300 or so off-contract. Meanwhile, the iPhone 3GS, iPad 3G, and iPad 2 3G models are already irrelevant. Even without Apple appealing the decision (which it will on principle alone), this ruling will cause *literally* zero damage to Apple’s bottom line. But hey, at least it makes a good headline for news sites:

Screen Shot 2013 06 05 at 4 31 44 PM

Boeing using robots to make more planes with the same amount of people

Speaking of machines doing increasingly more complex tasks, it turns out that Boeing is now using robots to paint the wings of its massive 777s. Unsurprisingly, they’re way better at it than humans are:

Manually, it takes a team of painters 4.5 hours to do the first coat. The robots do it in 24 minutes with perfect quality. Boeing began using the machine in February. By midsummer, all 777 wings will be painted this way.

Both the head of the of the 777 program and the director in charge of their manufacturing were quick to point out that no one was laid off because of the robots, but the reality is that more work being done with fewer people means fewer jobs to go around.

Fox News: Obama is waging psychological warfare on Americans

Is Obama waging psychological warfare on Americans?:

I believe that the Obama administration is conducting psychological warfare on conservative Americans. Not only that but it is also waging this war on all Americans who previously viewed themselves, their country, their Constitution and their overwhelming belief in God as a force for good in the world.

The psychological warfare began with an apology tour in which President Obama publicly “confessed,” presuming to speak for all of us, for the shortcomings of America and our supposed contributions to tyranny and all manner of evils around the world.  

This confession planted in the American mind the notion that our values and beliefs might not be in line with freedom and truth.

Ugh. 

Gun rights are inextricably entwined in the American psyche with freedom to defend oneself.  Attacking gun rights, I believe, is an element of the psychological warfare on the American belief that force is justifiable when confronting evil.

Right. Which is why Obama didn’t have Osama Bin Laden killed or intervene in Libya, am I right?

If liberal Americans stand by and do not seek swift and severe justice for those who perpetrated these acts, then they will have tacitly been victimized, too. Because they will have tacitly agreed that it is acceptable for their government to target certain political movements for persecution—and that will have fundamentally changed the psyche of America.

The people responsible have been fired. What else does this guy want? Oh yeah, nothing short of Obama’s resignation.

Seen through the lens of psychological warfare, the failure to defend our embassy in Benghazi need not be understood simply as a screw-up. It could reflect an actual strategy on the part of the administration to reinforce the notion that homicidal violence born of hatred toward America is understandable—even condonable—because we have generated it ourselves and are reaping the harvest of ill will we have sown. In other words, we should take our punishment.

Yes, the President deliberately let Americans be killed. Okay.

There will be those that say that many American leaders have sought to target groups hostile to their views. Some will point to President Nixon or Senator McCarthy or J. Edgar Hoover. And that debate can be had.

But I assert that this administration is engaged in a coordinated attempt to dispirit, disarm and disenfranchise large portions of the American population and to weaken our founding principles through what is best understood as psychological warfare.

Obama is engaging in psychological warfare against the American people, but “the debate can be had” as to whether Nixon, McCarthy, or Hoover targeted groups they didn’t like?

What universe does this guy live in?

Georgia Senator attributes sexual assaults in the military to hormones

Saxby Chambliss Attributes Military Sexual Assault To ‘The Hormone Level Created By Nature’:

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) called on the military to do more to crack down on sexual assault in its ranks on Tuesday, while also worrying that they may be hard to stop because of the natural “hormone level” of the young men serving.

“The young folks who are coming into each of your services are anywhere from 17 to 22 or 23. Gee whiz, the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur. So we’ve got to be very careful how we address it on our side,” Chambliss told top military officials at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “But guys, we are not doing our job. You’re not doing yours, and we are not doing ours with the rates we are seeing on sexual assaults.”

While he’s at least making the point that something should be done, “hormones” don’t explain why this kind of behavior is so disgustingly prevalent – a study by the Pentagon found that 26,000 service members were sexually assaulted last year alone.

What makes this possible is the perceived lack of repercussions for such behavior. And it’s no wonder they think they can get away with it: they can. Hell, just this April an Air Force pilot convicted of sexual assault had the decision overturned by a three-star general and is now reinstated. In an environment where there’s no punishment for acting like an animal, the worst of the young men in the military are doing just that.

Native American student’s diploma withheld for wearing tribal feather at graduation

Native American student denied high school diploma for wearing tribal feather:

A high school graduate in Alabama is being denied her diploma after being fined $1,000 for wearing a feather reflecting her Native American heritage.

‘I don’t think it’s fair at all,’ 17-year-old Chelsey Ramer told WPMI-TV. ‘I feel like its discrimination.’

Ramer, a member of the Poarch Creek Band of Indians, wore the feather while taking part in the graduation ceremony at Escambia Academy High School in defiance of school policy forbidding ‘extraneous items’ from being worn without school permission.

The school sent a contract for graduating seniors to sign before the May 23 event, but Ramer told the station she never signed it. Escambia is now withholding her diploma until she pays the fine.

I’m always surprised by the amount of bullshit bureaucracy at high schools and other aspects of local government in the South- you’d think that kind of thing wouldn’t be a problem in places where the Tea Party is so influential.

The United States is the wealthiest country in the world, but your average person wouldn’t know that: median wealth in America is less than 1/3 of that in countries with lower inequality

It’s A “0.6%” World: Who Owns What Of The $223 Trillion In Global Wealth:

Interestingly, the ranking by median wealth is slightly different, favoring countries with lower levels of wealth inequality. As was the case last year, Australia (USD 195,000) tops the table by a considerable margin, with Japan, Italy, Belgium, and the UK in the band from USD 110,000 to 140,000, and Singapore and Switzerland with values around USD 90,000. The USA lags far behind with median wealth of just USD 55,000.

Pathetic. This is the result of having inequality comparable with Uruguay and the Phillippines. I mean really – here’s some countries we’re worse than: Iran, Nigeria, and Uganda. China has greater income equality than the United States!