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01.07.18

Links 7/1/2018: New Latte Dock and 4MLinux Releases

Posted in News Roundup at 12:10 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

GNOME bluefish

Contents

GNU/Linux

  • Linux Journal returns, Automotive Grade Linux at CES, and more open source news

    In this week’s edition of our open source news roundup, we cover the rebirth of Linux Journal, Automotive Grade Linux infotainment systems, and more.

  • A 2017 retrospective

    The December 21 LWN Weekly Edition will be the final one for 2017; as usual, we will take the last week of the year off and return on January 4. It’s that time of year where one is moved to look back over the last twelve months and ruminate on what happened; at LWN, we also get the opportunity to mock the predictions we made back in January. Read on for the scorecard and a year-end note from LWN.
    Your editor led off with a prediction that group maintainer models would be adopted by more projects over the course of the year; this prediction was partly motivated by the Debian discussion on the idea of eliminating single maintainers. Debian appears to have dropped the idea; Fedora, meanwhile, has seen some strong pushback from maintainers who resent others touching “their” packages. Group maintainership may have made a few gains here and there, but it has not yet succeeded in taking over the free-software world.

    The prediction that the vendor kernels shipped on Android devices would move closer to the mainline was not a complete failure. Google has made some efforts to push vendors toward less-ancient kernels, and efforts to get those vendors to work more closely with the mainline are beginning to bear fruit. It will be a long and slow process, though.

  • Desktop

    • HarfBuzz brings professional typography to the desktop

      By their nature, low-level libraries go mostly unnoticed by users and even some programmers. Usually, they are only noticed when something goes wrong. However, HarfBuzz deserves to be an exception. Not only does the adoption of HarfBuzz mean that free software’s ability to convert Unicode characters to a font’s specific glyphs is as advanced as any proprietary equivalent, but its increasing use means that professional typography can now be done from the Linux desktop as easily as at a print shop.

      “HarfBuzz” is a transliteration of the Persian for “open type.” Partly, the name reflects that it is designed for use with OpenType, the dominant format for font files. Equally, though, it reflects the fact that the library’s beginnings lie in the wish of Behdad Esfahbod, HarfBuzz’s lead developer, to render Persian texts correctly on a computer.

      “I grew up in a print shop,” Esfahbod explained during a telephone interview. “My father was a printer, and his father was a printer. When I was nine, they got a PC, so my brother and I started learning programming on it.” In university, Esfahbod tried to add support for Unicode, the industry standard for encoding text, to Microsoft Explorer 5. “We wanted to support Persian on the web,” he said. “But the rendering was so bad, and we couldn’t fix that, so we started hacking on Mozilla, which back then was Netscape.”

      Esfahbod’s early interest in rendering Persian was the start of a fifteen-year effort to bring professional typography to every Unicode-supported script (writing system). It was an effort that led through working on the GNOME desktop for Red Hat to working on Firefox development at Mozilla and Chrome development at Google, with Esfahbod always moving on amiably to wherever he could devote the most time to perfecting HarfBuzz. The first general release was reached in 2015, and Esfahbod continues to work on related font technologies to this day.

    • Solaris 11.4 To Move From GNOME 2 Desktop To GNOME Shell

      For those happening to use Oracle Solaris on desktops/workstations, Solaris 11.4 will finally be making the transition from GNOME 2 to the GNOME 3.24 Shell.

      GNOME Shell has been the default GNOME user interface since 2011 while with the upcoming Solaris 11.4 update is when Oracle is finally making the plunge from GNOME 2.x to GNOME 3.24. Longtime Sun/Solaris developer Alan Coopersmith confirmed, “Gnome Shell is coming in Solaris 11.4, which upgrades GNOME to version 3.24.”

    • This is the new Acer Chromebook 11

      Many people diss Chromebooks because they simply don’t understand them. No, Chrome OS — the operating system that powers these laptops — is not just a glorified web browser. Actually, the OS is a full Linux distribution that is both extremely secure and easy to use. True, they can be deficient for some tasks, such as video editing and hardcore gaming, but let’s be honest — not everyone has those needs. If everything you do is in a browser — email, web surfing, social media, YouTube, Netflix, etc. — there is no reason to run Windows and open yourself up to malware and other bad things. Hell, Chromebooks even have Microsoft Office support these days!

  • Server

    • Containers without Docker at Red Hat

      The Docker (now Moby) project has done a lot to popularize containers in recent years. Along the way, though, it has generated concerns about its concentration of functionality into a single, monolithic system under the control of a single daemon running with root privileges: dockerd. Those concerns were reflected in a talk by Dan Walsh, head of the container team at Red Hat, at KubeCon + CloudNativeCon. Walsh spoke about the work the container team is doing to replace Docker with a set of smaller, interoperable components. His rallying cry is “no big fat daemons” as he finds them to be contrary to the venerated Unix philosophy.

    • Demystifying container runtimes

      As we briefly mentioned in our overview article about KubeCon + CloudNativeCon, there are multiple container “runtimes”, which are programs that can create and execute containers that are typically fetched from online images. That space is slowly reaching maturity both in terms of standards and implementation: Docker’s containerd 1.0 was released during KubeCon, CRI-O 1.0 was released a few months ago, and rkt is also still in the game. With all of those runtimes, it may be a confusing time for those looking at deploying their own container-based system or Kubernetes cluster from scratch. This article will try to explain what container runtimes are, what they do, how they compare with each other, and how to choose the right one. It also provides a primer on container specifications and standards.

    • Containers in Research

      Last week, I attended the Docker Containers for Reproducible Research Workshop hosted by the Software Sustainability Institute. Many talks were addressing how containers can be used in a high performance computing (HPC) environment. Since running the Docker daemon requires root privileges, most administrators are reluctant to allow users running Docker containers in a HPC environment. This issue as been addressed by Singularity, which is an alternative conterization technology that does not require root privileges. The nice thing is that Singularity allows importing existing Docker images, which allows you creating a Singularity container from anything that is on Docker Hub. Although I only used Docker so far, Singularity sounds like a nice technology I would like to explore in the future.

  • Kernel Space

    • Shrinking the kernel with link-time garbage collection

      One of the keys to fitting the Linux kernel into a small system is to remove any code that is not needed. The kernel’s configuration system allows that to be done on a large scale, but it still results in the building of a kernel containing many smaller chunks of unused code and data. With a bit of work, though, the compiler and linker can be made to work together to garbage-collect much of that unused code and recover the wasted space for more important uses.
      This is the first article of a series discussing various methods of reducing the si

    • The current state of kernel page-table isolation

      At the end of October, the KAISER patch set was unveiled; this work separates the page tables used by the kernel from those belonging to user space in an attempt to address x86 processor bugs that can disclose the layout of the kernel to an attacker. Those patches have seen significant work in the weeks since their debut, but they appear to be approaching a final state. It seems like an appropriate time for another look.
      This work has since been renamed to “kernel page-table isolation” or KPTI, but the objective remains the same: split the page tables, which are currently shared between user and kernel space, into two sets of tables, one for each side. This is a fundamental change to how the kernel’s memory management works and is the sort of thing that one would ordinarily expect to see debated for years, especially given its associated performance impact. KPTI remains on the fast track, though. A set of preparatory patches was merged into the mainline after the 4.15-rc4 release — when only important fixes would ordinarily be allowed — and the rest seems destined for the 4.16 merge window. Many of the core kernel developers have clearly put a lot of time into this work, and Linus Torvalds is expecting it to be backported to the long-term stable kernels.

      KPTI, in other words, has all the markings of a security patch being readied under pressure from a deadline. Just in case there are any smug ARM-based readers out there, it’s worth noting that there is an equivalent patch set for arm64 in the works.

    • Linux 4.16 To Feature More BFQ Optimizations

      For fans of the BFQ I/O scheduler, more improvements for it are coming with Linux 4.16.

      Linaro’s Paolo Valente had his latest feature updates for the Budget Fair Queueing (BFQ) I/O scheduler pulled in to the block subsystem’s “-next” tree, a few weeks ahead of the Linux 4.16 merge window.

    • LightNVM 2.0 Support Being Prepped For Linux 4.16

      LightNVM is the abstraction layer within the Linux kernel for supporting open-channel NVM Express solid-state drives. LightNVM 2.0 is on the way.

      LightNVM 2.0 is on the way and is currently available as a public draft specification. This updated specification will be released soon for dealing with these SSDs that leave management up to the operating system rather than the drive itself.

    • Input Drivers Are Being Prepped For Year 2038 Safety

      While kernel developers are busy with Spectre and Meltdown bugs right now, 20 years from now is the big “Year 2038″ problem. Kernel developers are still working through the massive codebase to allow it to function past this “Unix Millenium Bug.”

      The Year 2038 problem is when on 19 January 2038 that Unix systems storing time as a 32-bit integer will wrap around. Developers for years have been working on Year 2038 fixes but the kernel isn’t quite tidied up yet.

    • Graphics Stack

      • Marek Working On 32-bit GPU Pointers For RadeonSI

        Well known open-source AMD 3D driver developer Marek Olšák has published a set of new patches featuring his latest optimization work: 32-bit GPU pointers.

        15 patches sent out this Saturday plumb into RadeonSI/Gallium3D support for 32-bit heaps, a 32-bit virtual memory allocator in the Radeon Winsys, and other changes for supporting 32-bit GPU pointers. These Mesa patches also depend upon two yet-to-be-merged LLVM patches in their AMDGPU back-end.

      • Radeon+Ryzen CPUFreq CPU Scaling Governor Benchmarks On Linux 4.15

        Taking a break from KPTI and Retpoline benchmarks, here are some tests recently conducted with Linux 4.15 when it comes to trying out the different CPUFreq scaling governors with this latest kernel and running various games with a Radeon RX 580 Polaris graphics card.

  • Applications

  • Desktop Environments/WMs

    • K Desktop Environment/KDE SC/Qt

      • LibAlkimia 7.0 released

        LibAlkimia is a base library that contains support for financial applications based on the Qt C++ framework.

        One of its main features is the encapsulation of The GNU Multiple Precision Arithmetic Library (GMP) and so providing a simple object to be used representing monetary values in the form of rational numbers. All the mathematical details are hidden inside the AlkValue object.

      • Latte Dock, KDE Fundraising 2017

        Latte Dock is preparing its next stable version (0.7.3) which you will be able to get the next days and of course new features at its git version. I wont describe now the fixes, improvements and new features both versions contain because this article is for another reason.

      • Latte bug fix release v0.7.3 and some news…

        Latte Dock v0.7.3 has been released containing many important fixes and improvements! Soon at your distro repos or…

      • Discussing the future of Cantor

        It is common to use the new year date to start new projects or give new directions for old ones. The last one is the case for Cantor.

        Since when I got the maintainer status for Cantor, I was working to improve the community around the software. Because the great plugins systems of Qt, it is easy to write new backends for Cantor, and in fact in last years Cantor reached the number of 11 backends.

  • Distributions

    • 9 Most Beautiful Linux Distros You Need To Use (2018 Edition)

      Linux users have the liberty to enjoy an unparalleled freedom while choosing the Linux distributions as per their needs. Using different open source technologies, the developers keep creating something new and surprising the enthusiasts. Here, in this article, I’ll be listing the most beautiful Linux distros that have impressed me and other Linux users. This list is a mixture of newcomers and popular distros.

    • New Releases

      • 4MLinux 23.2 released.

        This is a minor (point) release in the 4MLinux STABLE channel, which comes with the Linux kernel 4.9.75 (*). The 4MLinux Server now includes Apache 2.4.29, MariaDB 10.2.11, and PHP 7.0.26 (see this post for more details). Additionally, some popular programs (Audacity, Chromium, VLC) have been updated, too. 4MLinux 23.2 includes bugfixes for VLC (which now plays the “https” network streams correctly) and Chromium (restored good sound quality).

        You can update your 4MLinux by executing the “zk update” command in your terminal (fully automatic process).

    • Red Hat Family

    • Debian Family

      • My Free Software Activities in December 2017

        My monthly report covers a large part of what I have been doing in the free software world. I write it for my donors (thanks to them!) but also for the wider Debian community because it can give ideas to newcomers and it’s one of the best ways to find volunteers to work with me on projects that matter to me.

      • Derivatives

        • Canonical/Ubuntu

          • UBports Is Making Progress With Unity 8 On The Desktop

            While it’s approaching one year since Canonical decided to divest from Unity 8 and mobile/convergence, the UBports community continues making some progress in getting their forked desktop environment ready for their forked Ubuntu Touch environment as well as the desktop.

            Shared this weekend on YouTube is a new video showing off the current state of Unity 8 on the desktop. Recent work by the UBports folks includes better XMir support so applications like Google Chrome will behave properly, and more.

          • Ubuntu 17.10 Will Be Re-Released on January 11, Will No Longer Brick Laptops

            Lenovo laptops were among those most affected by the ‘bug’, though reports were also filed by users of devices from other computer vendors, including Acer and Dell.

            The bug could corrupt the BIOS of an affected laptop, leaving the user unable to save settings or make changes. In extreme cases the bug left users unable to boot their laptop at all.

          • Flavours and Variants

            • Are You Looking for 32 Bit deepin GNU/Linux?

              Use Manjaro Deepin 32 bit instead! As you may know, deepin GNU/Linux doesn’t provide 32 bit version, and it’s still no “Ubuntu Deepin Remix” with latest version for 32 bit until today, so you having 32 bit computers may want a 32 bit, living & supported GNU/Linux distro with Deepin Desktop Environment (DDE). The closest answer for that is Manjaro Deepin 32 bit, a new community edition of Manjaro that comes with DDE + latest applications, and being actively developed. This article includes the download links + screenshots + short list of its default applications.

            • Lubuntu 17.04 End Of Life and Lubuntu 17.10 Respins

              Following the End of Life notice for Ubuntu, the Lubuntu Team would like to announce that as a non-LTS release, 17.04 has a 9-month support cycle and, as such, will reach end of life on Saturday, January 13, 2018. Lubuntu will no longer provide bug fixes or security updates for 17.04, and we highly recommend that you update to 17.10, which continues to be actively supported with security updates and select high-impact bug fixes.

              [..]

              We are pleased to announce that images with the affected driver disabled are being created at the time of writing, and should be ready for testing in the next day or so, which could be released next Thursday. Once images are ready for testing, we will announce a call for testing on the Lubuntu-devel mailing list, so please subscribe to that if you are interested. As always, we will announce something on our official blog at Lubuntu.me once we are ready to release these images.

  • Devices/Embedded

Free Software/Open Source

  • Computer History Museum will release Apple’s Lisa Operating system for free as open source

    The Computer History Museum in California has planned to release Apple’s legendary Lisa operating system (OS) for free as open source this year, the media reported.

  • Web Browsers

    • Chrome

      • Chrome is turning into the new Internet Explorer 6

        Chrome, in other words, is being used in the same way that Internet Explorer 6 was back in the day — with web developers primarily optimizing for Chrome and tweaking for rivals later. To understand how we even got to this stage, here’s a little (a lot) of browser history. If you want to know why saying “Chrome is the new Internet Explorer 6″ is so damning, you have to know why IE6 was a damnable problem in the early ‘00s.

    • Mozilla

      • Robert O’Callahan: Ancient Browser-Wars History: MD5-Hashed Posts Declassified

        Another lesson: in 2007-2008 I was overly focused on toppling IE (and Flash and WPF), and thought having all the open-source browsers sharing a single engine implementation wouldn’t be a big problem for the Web. I’ve changed my mind completely; the more code engines share, the more de facto standardization of bugs we would see, so having genuinely separate implementations is very important.

        I’m very grateful to Brendan and others for disregarding my opinions and not letting me lead Mozilla down the wrong path. It would have been a disaster for everyone.

        To let off steam, and leave a paper trail for the future, I wrote four blog posts during 2007-2008 describing some of my thoughts, and published their MD5 hashes. The aftermath of the successful Firefox 57 release seems like an appropriate time to harmlessly declassify those posts. Please keep in mind that my opinions have changed.

      • On Keeping Secrets

        Once upon a time I was at a dinner at a computer science conference. At that time the existence of Chrome was a deeply guarded secret; I knew of it, but I was sworn to secrecy. Out of the blue, one of my dinner companions turned to me and asked “is Google working on a browser?”

        [...]

        One thing I really enjoyed about working at Mozilla was that we didn’t have many secrets to keep. Most of the secrets I had to protect were about other companies. Minimizing one’s secrecy burden generally seems like a good idea, although I can’t eliminate it because it’s often helpful to other people for them to be able to share secrets with me in confidence.

  • FSF/FSFE/GNU/SFLC

  • Openness/Sharing/Collaboration

    • Open Access/Content

      • Germany vs Elsevier: universities win temporary journal access after refusing to pay fees

        The Dutch publishing giant Elsevier has granted uninterrupted access to its paywalled journals for researchers at around 200 German universities and research institutes that had refused to renew their individual subscriptions at the end of 2017.

        The institutions had formed a consortium to negotiate a nationwide licence with the publisher. They sought a collective deal that would give most scientists in Germany full online access to about 2,500 journals at about half the price that individual libraries have paid in the past. But talks broke down and, by the end of 2017, no deal had been agreed. Elsevier now says that it will allow the country’s scientists to access its paywalled journals without a contract until a national agreement is hammered out.

    • Open Hardware/Modding

      • Open Source Prosthetic Leg, with Elliott Rouse

        Elliott Rouse is an Assistant Professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Michigan, where he directs the Neurobionics Lab. The vision of his group is to discover the fundamental science that underlies human joint dynamics during locomotion and incorporate these discoveries in a new class of wearable robotic technologies. The Lab uses technical tools from mechanical and biomedical engineering applied to the complex challenges of human augmentation, physical medicine, rehabilitation and neuroscience. Dr. Rouse and his research have been featured at TED, on the Discovery Channel, CNN, National Public Radio, Wired Magazine UK, Business Insider, and Odyssey Magazine.

  • Programming/Development

    • Python 3, ASCII, and UTF-8

      The dreaded UnicodeDecodeError exception is one of the signature “features” of Python 3. It is raised when the language encounters a byte sequence that it cannot decode into a string; strictly treating strings differently from arrays of byte values was something that came with Python 3. Two Python Enhancement Proposals (PEPs) bound for Python 3.7 look toward reducing those errors (and the related UnicodeEncodeError) for environments where they are prevalent—and often unexpected.

      Two related problems are being addressed by PEP 538 (“Coercing the legacy C locale to a UTF-8 based locale”) and PEP 540 (“Add a new UTF-8 Mode”). The problems stem from the fact that locales are often incorrectly specified and that the default locale (the “POSIX” or “C” locale) specifies an ASCII encoding, which is often not what users actually want. Over time, more and more programs and developers are using UTF-8 and are expecting things to “just work”.

    • Rust 1.23 Lowers Rustc Memory Usage

      For fans of Rust that didn’t hear yet, Rust 1.23 was released this week as the newest stable version of this popular programming language focused on safety, speed, and concurrency.

    • tint 0.0.5

      A maintenance release of the tint package arrived on CRAN earlier this week. Its name expands from tint is not tufte as the package offers a fresher take on the Tufte-style for html and pdf presentations.

  • Standards/Consortia

Leftovers

  • The surprising upside to video game addiction’s classification as a mental health disorder
  • The Sincerest Form of Flattery

    I learned of the letter when it circulated among the Council of the Computer and Technology Section of the Texas Bar with the suggestion to check out the letter’s detailed request for ESI preservation. Reading it, I was struck by how thorough, polished, yet dated the language seemed. It was eerily familiar, and with good reason: of the letter’s eleven pages, I’d written more than half of them. The text aligned—verbatim—with the exemplar letter in the Appendix of my well-worn article entitled “The Perfect Preservation Letter,” something I penned a dozen years ago, before Facebook, the Cloud and iPhones.

  • Science

    • Your Next T-Shirt Will Be Made by a Robot

      Sometime later this year, dozens of robots will spring into action at a new factory in Little Rock, Ark. The plant will not make cars or electronics, nor anything else that robots are already producing these days. Instead it will make T-shirts—lots of T-shirts. When fully operational, these sewing robots will churn them out at a dizzying rate of one every 22 seconds.

      For decades, the automation of the sewing of garments has vexed roboticists. Conventional robots excel at manipulating rigid objects but are rather inept at handling soft, flexible materials like fabric. Early attempts to automate sewing included treating pieces of cloth with starch to temporarily make them stiff, allowing a robot to manipulate them as if they were steel sheets. This and other approaches, however, never became commercially viable, mainly because the clothing industry has resisted automation by relying on cheap labor in developing countries.

    • Stochastic Computing in a Single Device

      Researchers at the University of Minnesota say they’ve made a big leap in a strange but growing field of computing. Called stochastic computing, the method uses random bits to calculate via simpler circuits, at lower power, and with greater tolerance for errors. Though it was first conceived in the 1960s, one of the things holding stochastic computing back was the lack of suitable devices to make it practical.

    • We’ve Entered a New Era of Quantum Computing

      Quantum computing might be nascent, but recent advancements have brought us into a new age. And every new era needs a name. So when future computing historians look back on the era starting around 2017, they’ll have a word to describe it: the NISQ era.

      The NISQ era, or Noisy Intermediate-Scale Quantum Technology era, is a term coined by John Preskill at last month’s Quantum Computing for Business (Q2B) conference held at NASA Ames in California. Business leaders from Fortune 500 companies met with quantum computing experts (and watched me moderate a panel) to learn about how and when they should expect quantum computers to have useful, real-world applications. Preskill has now published a paper based on his Q2B lecture about what this “NISQ” era entails.

    • Exploring the realistic nature of the wave function in quantum mechanics

      Quantum mechanics is a pillar of modern science and technology, and has benefited human society for a century. The wave function, also known as the quantum state, is the description of a quantum object and plays a central role in quantum mechanics. Nonetheless, the nature of the wave function is still debated. So far, there have been several interpretations of the wave function, including the Copenhagen interpretation, the De Broglie’s pilot wave interpretation, and the many-word interpretation.

    • The legal and ethical minefield of AI: ‘Tech has the power to do harm as well as good’

      As artificial intelligence (AI) penetrates deeper into business operations and services, even supporting judicial decision-making, are we approaching a time when the greatest legal mind could be a machine? According to Prof Dame Wendy Hall, co-author of the report Growing the Artificial Intelligence Industry in the UK, we are just at the beginning of the AI journey and now is the time to set boundaries.

      “All tech has the power to do harm as well as good,” Hall says. “So we have to look at regulating companies and deciding what they can and cannot do with the data now.”

      AI and robotics professor Noel Sharkey highlights the “legal and moral implications of entrusting human decisions to algorithms that we cannot fully understand”. He explains that the narrow AI systems that businesses currently use (to draw inferences from large volumes of data) apply algorithms that learn from experience and feed back to real-time and historical data. But these systems are far from perfect.

    • DeepMind’s Cofounder Thinks AI Should Get Ethical in 2018

      Mustafa Suleyman, who cofounded Google’s deep-learning subsidiary, wants the artificial-intelligence community to focus on ethics in 2018.

  • Health/Nutrition

    • GP’S SIX WAYS TO HELP THE NHS. PLEASE ACT AND SHARE

      The winter crisis continues to expose the extent of under-resourcing of the NHS by a government many believe wants to see it collapse in order to accelerate its replacement by an insurance-based system – that Theresa May refused to deny when asked.

      Some supporters of the NHS have reported a sense of paralysis, feeling overwhelmed by the scale of the problem and unsure what to do to help the NHS survive until a Labour government can save it.

    • Why is the NHS in crisis?

      It’s January, which means another winter crisis in the NHS. Last week record numbers of patients were forced to wait in the back of ambulances as hospitals in England struggled to cope with demand for treatment. On Tuesday, NHS England told hospitals to postpone non-urgent operations, leading to tens of thousands of cancellations.

      The winter crisis has become an annual affair. So why can’t our health service cope?

      The NHS is a complex beast, but as usual it helps to follow the money. There are good reasons why spending on health should be expected to increase over time: an ageing population means that demands on health services rise since older individuals on average consume more, and more expensive, healthcare. Demand will also increase over time as a result of the rising prevalence of some chronic conditions, improvements in access to care, and improvements in technology.

    • The Observer view on NHS funding

      Five years ago, Britain’s best-loved institutions were at the centre of Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony. The NHS took pride of place alongside James Bond, the Queen and EastEnders: as the rest of the world watched with bemusement, the stadium in Stratford was transformed into a 1950s-style hospital in a celebration of the state-funded health service the nation holds so dear.

      We have to go back 70 years to the pre-NHS world to understand why the public regards the health service not just as an everyday medical reality but as a cherished national institution. Before 1948, getting sick for many meant not just the pain and worry of illness but the knowledge that their lack of means meant treatable conditions could prove terminal.

      Across much of the globe – including the world’s richest country, the United States – that shocking state of affairs remains a reality. But here in the UK, the founding principle of the NHS – that treatment should be available free at the point of delivery according to need, regardless of ability to pay – remains central to the way healthcare is provided. At the same time – confounding the ideological naysayers who claim that a state-funded system is doomed to fail – the NHS is ranked top in a Commonwealth Fund survey of 11 international health systems, including those in the US, Germany, France and Sweden. The patriotic pride the NHS inspires in many is not simply sentimental fancy.

    • CHIP to be Spared from GOP Congressional Chaos–Children’s Heath Insurance Program set for Five-Year Extension

      Congress appears poised to finally ensure that millions of kids who rely on the federal government for healthcare won’t have to depend on the legislative process for the rest of President Trump’s first term.

      Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) touted a proposed five-year renewal of the Children’s Health Insurance Program on Thursday morning. CHIP expired in October, as Congressional Republicans scrambled to ram through landmark reductions to the corporate tax rate before the end of the year.

      “This month, we can set this right” McConnell said on the Senate floor. He was referencing a government funding deal that must be passed in two weeks.

    • US Revives its Harmful Drug War

      US Attorney General Jeff Sessions is reviving the US government’s out-of-date, ineffective, and counterproductive war on drugs. Today it was reported that he will rescind the 2013 Cole Memo, which allowed federal prosecutors to choose not to prosecute marijuana offenses in the states that allow adults to consume it.

    • Jeff Sessions’ Reversion Back to a Know-Nothing Marijuana Policy

      Attorney General Sessions ignores evidence and the will of the American people in targeting marijuana users.

      Jeff Sessions is in denial. Despite all the evidence, he refuses to believe that this country’s decades-long War on Drugs has been a colossal failure. The drug war is a public health menace, racially biased, and an economic disaster that has not curbed drug abuse or made anyone safer. All this is lost on Sessions, who insists on turning back sensible change in drug policy around the country and going against the will of the majority of Americans.

      On Thursday, Sessions moved to rescind several memoranda issued by the Obama administration that expressed respect for the states whose voters had chosen more progressive marijuana policies. That earlier guidance from the Justice Department included directing federal resources away from enforcing federal drug laws against people who use and cultivate marijuana for personal and medical use in compliance with state laws and leaving undisturbed states that had decided to legalize marijuana through closely enforced regulatory systems.

    • Maternal Deaths Are Increasing in Texas, But Probably Not as Much as We Thought

      A startling spike in recent years in the number of Texas women dying as a consequence of pregnancy or childbirth has spurred a furious debate over whether deep funding cuts to reproductive health services are to blame.

      A peer-reviewed study published today in the quarterly journal Birth could add a new dimension to the argument. It attributes part, though not all, of the increase in Texas’ maternal mortality rate — which is among the highest of any state — to a statistical mirage caused by misreporting on death certificates.

      According to vital statistics records, Texas’ maternal mortality rate — defined as deaths per 100,000 live births — jumped 87 percent, from 18.3 for the five years from 2006 to 2010 to 34.2 for 2011 to 2015. But researchers say it’s likely that some of the deaths classified as maternal in the second five-year period were mistakenly linked to pregnancy or childbirth. They estimate that, without these false positives, the real rate of maternal mortality in the state would have been somewhat lower.

    • Wi-Fi but no water: Can smart tech help a city’s poor?

      In the picturesque Barcelona district of El Born, residents can get a better night’s sleep nowadays because garbage trucks pass only when bins in the street are full, thanks to high-tech sensors that detect when they need to be emptied.

      Meanwhile, a few streets away, magnetic sensors under the road surface allow drivers to find out in advance if a parking space is free – saving them time and cutting back on vehicle emissions.

    • Clacton pensioner, 81, dies after almost 4 hour ambulance wait

      A PENSIONER was found dead in her home in Clacton after waiting almost four hours for an ambulance to arrive.

      The 81-year-old woman called 999 complaining of chest pains on Tuesday, according to the GMB union.

      Paramedics arrived hours later and forced their way into her home, but she had already died.

      The East of England Ambulance Service said crews arrived three hours and 45 minutes after her initial call.

  • Security

    • Tech Firms Hope Hardware Fixes Won’t Be Required to Solve the Chipocalypse

      Early concerns that a pervasive chip flaw called Spectre couldn’t be patched by software are starting to soften slightly.

    • Google and Intel Beware: China Is Gunning for Dominance in AI Chips

      The silicon part of Silicon Valley needs to watch out. Competitors in China think it’s finally their turn to shine.

    • At Least Three Billion Computer Chips Have the Spectre Security Hole

      Tech companies are still working overtime on patching two critical vulnerabilities in computer chips that were revealed this week. The flaws, dubbed “Meltdown” and “Spectre,” could let hackers get hold of passwords, encryption keys, and other sensitive information from a computer’s core memory via malicious apps running on devices.

    • How Red Hat Is Dealing With the Spectre of the CPU Meltdown

      Software fixes being released to deal with Spectre and Meltdown will be with us for as long as the current generations of CPUs remain in use.

    • Hot New Cryptocurrency Trend: Mining Malware That Could Fry Your Phone
    • PyCryptoMiner Attacks Linux Machines And Turns Them Into Monero-mining Bots
    • Marcus Hutchins’ lawyers seek information around arrest

      Lawyers acting for British security researcher Marcus Hutchins have filed a motion seeking additional information on a number of aspects surrounding his arrest in order to prepare for a trial that is expected to take place this year.

    • AMD Did NOT Disable Branch Prediction With A Zen Microcode Update

      With the plethora of software security updates coming out over the past few days in the wake of the Meltdown and Spectre disclosure, released by SUSE was a Family 17h “Zen” CPU microcode update that we have yet to see elsewhere… It claims to disables branch prediction, but I’ve confirmed with AMD that is not actually the case.

      AMD did post a processor security notice where they noted their hardware was not vulnerable to variant threee / rogue data cache load, for the “branch target injection” variant that there was “near zero risk” for exploiting, and with the bounds check bypass it would be resolved by software/OS updates.

    • Spectre and Meltdown Attacks Against Microprocessors

      “Throw it away and buy a new one” is ridiculous security advice, but it’s what US-CERT recommends. It is also unworkable. The problem is that there isn’t anything to buy that isn’t vulnerable. Pretty much every major processor made in the past 20 years is vulnerable to some flavor of these vulnerabilities. Patching against Meltdown can degrade performance by almost a third. And there’s no patch for Spectre; the microprocessors have to be redesigned to prevent the attack, and that will take years. (Here’s a running list of who’s patched what.)

    • OpenBSD & FreeBSD Are Still Formulating Kernel Plans To Address Meltdown+Spectre

      On Friday DragonFlyBSD’s Matthew Dillon already landed his DragonFly kernel fixes for the Meltdown vulnerability affecting Intel CPUs. But what about the other BSDs?

      As outlined in that article yesterday, DragonFlyBSD founder Matthew Dillon quickly worked through better kernel/user separation with their code to address the Intel CPU bug. Similar to Linux, the DragonFlyBSD fix should cause minimal to small CPU performance impact for most workloads while system call heavy / interrupt-heavy workloads (like I/O and databases) could see more significant drops.

    • Retpoline v5 Published For Fending Off Spectre Branch Target Injection

      David Woodhouse of Amazon has sent out the latest quickly-revising patches for introducing the “Retpoline” functionality to the Linux kernel for mitigating the Spectre “variant 2″ attack.

      Retpoline v5 is the latest as of Saturday morning as the ongoing effort for avoiding speculative indirect calls within the Linux kernel for preventing a branch target injection style attack. These 200+ lines of kernel code paired with the GCC Retpoline patches are able to address vulnerable indirect branches in the Linux kernel.

      The Retpoline approach is said to only have up to a ~1.5% performance hit when patched… I hope this weekend to get around to trying these kernel and GCC patches on some of my systems for looking at the performance impact in our commonly benchmarked workloads. The Retpoline work is separate from the KPTI page table isolation work for addressing the Intel CPU Meltdown issue.

    • Intel hit with three class-action lawsuits over chip flaws
    • Meltdown, aka “Dear Intel, you suck”

      We have received *no* non-public information. I’ve seen posts elsewhere by other *BSD people implying that they receive little or no prior warning, so I have no reason to believe this was specific to OpenBSD and/or our philosophy. Personally, I do find it….amusing? that public announcements were moved up after the issue was deduced from development discussions and commits to a different open source OS project. Aren’t we all glad that this was under embargo and strongly believe in the future value of embargoes?

    • Meltdown & Spectre
    • Meltdown and Spectre Linux Kernel Status

      By now, everyone knows that something “big” just got announced regarding computer security. Heck, when the Daily Mail does a report on it , you know something is bad…

      Anyway, I’m not going to go into the details about the problems being reported, other than to point you at the wonderfully written Project Zero paper on the issues involved here. They should just give out the 2018 Pwnie award right now, it’s that amazingly good.

      If you do want technical details for how we are resolving those issues in the kernel, see the always awesome lwn.net writeup for the details.

      Also, here’s a good summary of lots of other postings that includes announcements from various vendors.

    • Spectre and Meltdown: What you need to know going forward

      As you’ve likely heard by now, there are some problems with Intel, AMD, and ARM processors. Called Meltdown and Spectre, the discovered attack possibilities are rather severe, as they impact pretty much every technical device on the network or in your house (PCs, laptops, tablets, phones, etc.).

      Here’s a breakdown of all the things you need to know. As things change, or new information becomes available, this article will be updated.

      The key thing to remember is not to panic, as the sky isn’t about to come crashing down. The situation is one that centers on information disclosure, not code execution (a far more damning issue to deal with).

    • Open Source Leaders: Take Intel to Task

      I do not know Linus Torvalds or Theo de Raadt. I have never met either of them and have read very little about them. What I do know, gleaned from email archives, is when it comes to bum hardware: they both have pretty strong opinions. Both Linus and Theo can be a bit rough around the edges when it comes to giving their thoughts about hardware design flaws: but at least they have a voice. Also, Linus and Theo have often been at odds whether it be about how to approach OS design, licensing etc but I suspect, or I at least have to believe, the latest incident from intel (the Spectre and Meltdown flaws) is one area they agree on.

      Linus and Theo cannot possibly be the only Open Source leaders out there who are frustrated and tired of being jerked around by intel. What I hope comes out of this is not many different voices saying the same thing here and there but instead, perhaps, our various leaders could get together and take intel to task on this issue. Intel not only created a horrible design flaw they lied by omission about it for several months. During those months the Intel CEO quietly dumped his stock. What a hero.

    • Docker Performance With KPTI Page Table Isolation Patches

      Overall most of our benchmarks this week of the new Linux Kernel Page Table Isolation (KPTI) patches coming as a result of the Meltdown vulnerability have showed minimal impact overall on system performance. The exceptions have obviously been with workloads having high kernel interactions like demanding I/O cases and in terms of real-world impact, databases. But when testing VMs there’s been some minor impact more broadly than bare metal testing and also Wine performance has been impacted. The latest having been benchmarked is seeing if the Docker performance has been impacted by the KPTI patches to see if it’s any significant impact since overall the patched system overhead certainly isn’t anything close to how it was initially hyped by some other media outlets.

    • Can We Replace Intel x86 With an Open Source Chip?
    • Critical CSRF Security Vulnerability in phpMyAdmin Database Tool Patched

      A “cross site request forgery” vulnerability in a popular tool for administrating MySQL and MariaDB databases that could lead to data loss has been patched.

    • 8 reasons to replace your VPN client with OpenVPN

      OpenVPN could be the answer. It’s an ultra-configurable open source VPN client which works with just about any VPN provider that supports the OpenVPN protocol. It gives you new ways to automate, optimize, control and troubleshoot your connections, and you can use it alongside your existing client, or maybe replace it entirely – it’s your call.

    • I’m harvesting credit card numbers and passwords from your site. Here’s how.
    • Hack-proof Quantum Data Encryption
    • There will always be hardware bugs

      By now everyone has seen the latest exploit, meltdown and spectre, complete with logos and full academic paper. The gist of this is that side channel attacks on CPUs are now actually plausible instead of mostly theoretical. LWN (subscribe!) has a good collection of posts about actual technical details and mitigations. Because this involves hardware and not just software, fixes get more complicated.

    • Intel faces class action lawsuits regarding Meltdown and Spectre

      The three lawsuits—filed in California, Indiana, and Oregon (PDF)—cite not just the security vulnerabilities and their potential impact, but also Intel’s response time to them. Researchers notified Intel about the flaws in June. Now, Intel faces a big headache. The vast majority of its CPUs in use today are impacted, and more class action complaints may be filed beyond these three.

    • Western Digital My Cloud drives have a built-in backdoor

      Western Digital’s network attached storage solutions have a newfound vulnerability allowing for unrestricted root access.
      James Bercegay disclosed the vulnerability to Western Digital in mid-2017. After allowing six months to pass, the full details and proof-of-concept exploit have been published. No fix has been issued to date.
      More troubling is the existence of a hard coded backdoor with credentials that cannot be changed. Logging in to Western Digital My Cloud services can be done by anybody using “mydlinkBRionyg” as the administrator username and “abc12345cba” as the password. Once logged in, shell access is readily available followed with plenty of opportunity for injection of commands.

    • What are Meltdown and Spectre? Here’s what you need to know.
  • Defence/Aggression

    • The Biggest Secret: James Risen on Life as a NY Times Reporter in the Shadow of the War on Terror

      We spend the hour with former New York Times reporter James Risen, who left the paper in August to join The Intercept as senior national security correspondent. This week, he published a 15,000-word story headlined “The Biggest Secret: My Life as a New York Times Reporter in the Shadow of the War on Terror.” The explosive piece describes his struggles to publish major national security stories in the post-9/11 period and how both the government and his own editors at The New York Times suppressed his reporting, including reports on the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, for which he would later win the Pulitzer Prize. Risen describes meetings between key Times editors and top officials at the CIA and the White House. His refusal to name a source would take him to the Supreme Court, and he almost wound up in jail, until the Obama administration blinked.

    • Western complicity is fuelling Yemen’s humanitarian crisis

      On 26 December, a crowded market in the Al Hayma district in Yemen was hit by airstrikes from a Saudi-led coalition that left 54 civilians dead, including eight children with 32 others injured.

      It was the latest bloody episode in a conflict that has been raging for a thousand days and claimed 10,000 victims with 20 million more (from a population of 28 million) in dire need of assistance.

      The United Nations Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, has described the conflict as “absurd” and “futile”, characterised by “the destruction of the country and the incommensurate suffering of its people.”

    • Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

      One day in the spring of 1961, soon after my thirtieth birthday, I was shown how our world would end. Not the earth itself, not – so far as I knew then, mistakenly – nearly all humanity or life on the planet, but the destruction of most cities and people in the northern hemisphere. What I was handed, in a White House office, was a single sheet of paper with a simple graph on it. It was headed “Top Secret – Sensitive.” Under that was “For the President’s Eyes Only.”

      The “eyes only” designation meant that, in principle, it was to be seen and read only by the person to whom it was explicitly addressed – in this case, the president. I had never before seen one marked “For the President’s Eyes Only.” And I never did again.

      The deputy assistant to the president for national security, Bob Komer, showed it to me. A cover sheet identified it as the answer to a question that President Kennedy had addressed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff a week earlier. Komer showed their response to me because I had drafted the question, which Komer had sent in the president’s name.

    • Why can’t the United Nations bring peace to Yemen?

      Yemenis, speaking to journalists and other camera-bearing strangers, like many others facing disaster and the collapse of the world around them from war or environmental catastrophes, often ask ‘where is the International Community? Why isn’t the world helping us?’ While it is difficult to completely grasp what people in extreme distress mean by the phrase, for many the ‘international community’ is embodied in the United Nations and its institutions, ranging from political entities, primarily the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to its more independent development and humanitarian assistance organisations such as the World Food Programme, UNICEF, WHO etc…. But the UN has lost considerable credibility in recent years and its reputation has suffered as a result of many failures. Yemen is a case in point.

      [...]

      Readers should be reminded of the most disastrous features of this war: by early 2018 Yemen has the world’s worst cholera epidemic with more than 1 million cases, and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with more than 8 million people on the brink of famine, thousands of whom may well have died already.

    • Not a Saudi ‘Arab spring’: Mohammad Bin Salman, a threat not a reformer [Part 1]

      Despite his three Pulitzer Prizes (for his already distant work of the 1980s and 1990s), Friedman is probably the most overrated international reporter in the western world. His best-selling books are essentially lame platitudes and easy popularizations of trends that have been at work for decades (globalization, etc.) and were far better explained by countless, more substantial intellectuals and analysts before him. They often seem to be far more about Mr. Friedman himself, and usually read as much as exercises in narcissistic self-aggrandizement as the enlightening explanations of the world destined to educate us, the masses, that he wants them to be.

      Besides his self-complacency, analytical sloppiness, intellectual laziness, frequently glaring ignorance or misunderstanding of the topics he writes about , crude “Washington Consensus” ideological conformism, cheap and easy optimism, and repetitive, formulaic, predictable stance on trends he aspires to reveal to us though he often seems to be behind the times and the last one to discover, in childish awe, things everyone had been writing about for years if not decades, Friedman sounds like an egotistic, pompous megalomaniac.

    • No More Worshiping of the Military

      I glanced at the line of people to my left — a little cross-section of America — and feeling a little skeptical about how they’d respond, I said, “No I don’t think so. I’d rather put my money towards some anti-war organization working to try and make sure that there are no more wounded soldiers, and to relief organizations that are supporting the hundreds of thousands of victims of America’s illegal wars abroad.”

    • Norway Halts Weapons Sales in Yemen War, Citing Humanitarian Crisis, as US & Britain Continue Supply

      Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday the country will stop supplying weapons and ammunition to the United Arab Emirates, citing “great concern” over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition that has been carrying out airstrikes in Yemen for nearly three years. Meanwhile, the U.S. and Britain continue to supply the Saudis with billions of dollars’ worth of weapons. The U.S. also provides logistical military support to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi air campaign has killed more than 10,000 civilians in Yemen and displaced more than 3 million. More than 80 percent of Yemenis now lack food, fuel, water and access to healthcare. We speak with journalist Iona Craig, who was based in Sana’a from 2010 to 2015 as the Yemen correspondent for The Times of London. She was awarded the 2016 Orwell Prize for her reporting on Yemen.

    • China’s hi-tech missile ambitions are marching ahead at warp speed

      The word “hypersonic” conjures up the idea of immense speed, as it should. The word itself refers to any speeds in excess of five times the speed of sound, or Mach 5.

      But when it comes to missile technology, “hypersonic” speed isn’t particularly impressive or new. Indeed, due to the gravitational forces involved, long-range ballistic missiles – including the United States’ first-generation SM-65 Atlas intercontinental ballistic missiles and the Soviet Union’s R-7 Semyorka – would see their payloads reach massive speeds well in excess of Mach 5 during atmospheric re-entry.

    • Trump Engineered Saudi Soft Coup, attack on Qatar, to Save Self

      Michael Wolff in his new book Fire and Fury makes a number of allegations about Trump’s role in the Gulf crisis that, if true, help explain the mess in that part of the Middle East.

      Wolff asserts that Trump and his then inner circle–Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Gary Cohn, Hope Hicks, etc.–hoped the mid-May foreign policy jaunt would change the conversation in Washington, DC, about trump’s having fired FBI director James Comey and about the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller. So the first thing to say is that the whole trip and the announcements around it were for the purpose of hype.

      In ancient Greece, Bion of Borysthenes observed that “Boys throw stones at frogs in sport, but the frogs die in earnest.” Trump and his cronies glibly unleashed a massive crisis in Gulf affairs that will have long term downstream effects, all in hopes of a week or two of positive headlines.
      Trump was convinced that his son-in-law and Middle East plenipotentiary, Jared Kushner, had gotten the Arab world on the side of the US and that his administration was on the cusp of a huge breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

  • Environment/Energy/Wildlife/Nature

    • Michael Moore says he’s going to frack off coast near Mar-a-Lago

      Liberal documentary filmmaker Michael Moore threatened to begin fracking off the Florida coast near President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

      His tweet appeared to be a response to a new administration proposal to increase offshore drilling for natural gas.

      “Our fracking off the coast of Mar-a-Lago begins right after Labor Day,” Moore said in a tweet referencing his upcoming TNT documentary series “Live From the Apocalypse.” “I’ve already got the rig — a beautiful Halliburton G-0008 fracking system with a monster Caterpillar engine!”

  • Finance

    • Visa locks down Bitcoin payment cards in crackdown on card issuer

      Cards including BitPay, Cryptopay and Bitwala all announced they had suspended their cards and were working to return funds to users. All the cards make payments using regular currencies such as pounds or Euros, but allow users to fund the payments from Bitcoin or Ethereum wallets.

    • Brexit: Three Tories among 20 MEPs urging Theresa May to keep UK in single market after Brexit

      Twenty British MEPs, including three Conservatives, have urged the Government to change course and keep Britain in the EU single market after Brexit.

      The cross-party group, which includes representatives of the Conservatives, Labour, the SNP, Greens and Liberal Democrats, expressed “deep concern” over the Government’s current Brexit strategy, which will see Britain leave the single market and customs union after a transitional period.

      The case for staying in the trading bloc has grown stronger since last year’s Brexit vote, they said.

    • Bitcoin Jumps, Ethereum Hits A High, Visa Suspends Crypto Debit Cards

      Bitcoin traded sharply higher Friday, while rival cryptocurrency Ethereum pegged a new high and Ripple retreated from Thursday’s record levels. Meanwhile multiple cryptocurrency debit card providers suspended service under orders from Visa ( V ) Europe.

      [ibd-display-video id=3017249 width=50 float=left autostart=true] Companies including Bitwala, Cryptopay, Wirex and TenX reportedly told customers that their prepaid cards would no longer function, though funds stored on cards are safe while they seek to resolve the issue with card issuer WaveCrest. The cards allow users to spend cryptocurrencies, mainly Bitcoin, at traditional brick-and-mortar retailers.

      In a statement to The Next Web , Visa is said to have clarified that its move was not a crackdown on cryptocurrencies, but action against one company that broke its rules.

      Meanwhile, amid a state crackdown in China , Bitcoin miners are setting up shop outside the country.

    • Trashed: Inside the Deadly World of Private Garbage Collection

      Shortly before 5 a.m. on a recent November night, a garbage truck with a New York Yankees decal on the side sped through a red light on an empty street in the Bronx. The two workers aboard were running late. Before long, they would start getting calls from their boss. “Where are you on the route? Hurry up, it shouldn’t take this long.” Theirs was one of 133 garbage trucks owned by Action Carting, the largest waste company in New York City, which picks up the garbage and recycling from 16,700 businesses.

      Going 20 miles per hour above the city’s 25 mph limit, the Action truck ran another red light with a worker, called a “helper,” hanging off the back. Just a few miles away the week before, another man had died in the middle of the night beneath the wheels of another company’s garbage truck. The Action truck began driving on the wrong side of the road in preparation for the next stop. The workers were racing to pick up as much garbage as possible before dawn arrived and the streets filled with slow traffic. “This route should take you twelve hours,” the boss often told them. “It shouldn’t take you fourteen hours.”

    • Brexit: More than 2,300 EU academics resign amid warning over UK university ‘Brexodus’

      More than 2,300 EU academics have resigned from British universities over the past year amid concerns over a “Brexodus” of top talent in higher education.

      New figures show a 19 per cent increase in departures of European staff from universities last year compared to before the EU referendum, and a 10 per cent rise from some 2130 resignations in 2015-16.

      Theresa May has urged EU citizens to stay in the UK after Britain leaves the bloc but prolonged uncertainty over post-Brexit rights has made some academics fearful for the future, critics warn.

    • Student Debt Slavery: Time to Level the Playing Field

      The lending business is heavily stacked against student borrowers. Bigger players can borrow for almost nothing, and if their investments don’t work out, they can put their corporate shells through bankruptcy and walk away. Not so with students. Their loan rates are high and if they cannot pay, their debts are not normally dischargeable in bankruptcy. Rather, the debts compound and can dog them for life, compromising not only their own futures but the economy itself.

      [...]

      The securitization of student debt has compounded these problems. Like mortgages, student loans have been pooled and packaged into new financial products that are sold as student loan asset-backed securities (SLABS). Although a 2010 bill largely eliminated private banks and lenders from the federal student loan business, the “student loan industrial complex” has created a $200 billion market that allows banks to cash in on student loans without issuing them. About 80 percent of SLABS are government-guaranteed. Banks can sell, trade or bet on these securities, just as they did with mortgage-backed securities; and they create the same sort of twisted incentives for loan servicing that occurred with mortgages.

    • Other Countries Have High-Speed Trains. We Have Deadly Accidents and Crumbling Infrastructure

      Japan’s high-speed bullet train system carries 1 million riders every day and has a remarkable safety record, at least compared to passenger trains in the United States. Passengers have taken billions of rides on Japanese bullet trains since the system was established 50 years ago, but not one passenger has died due to a derailment or collision.

      In the US commuters and travelers use trains less than the Japanese, but US passenger train lines have suffered five major wrecks that killed or injured passengers over the past decade, including the recent derailment of an Amtrak passenger train that killed three people and injured more than 50 others in DuPont, Washington on December 18. Among the dead were two active members of the Rail Passengers Association, a group that pushes for greater access to passenger rail services.

    • Yes, there should be a second Brexit referendum

      In the last couple of months, a great divide has opened up between the government and its people. A slim majority of Brits now support staying in the EU and holding a second referendum, according to two recent opinion polls. But even as Britain increasingly favours an historic U-turn that might allow us to rejoin Europe, Theresa May’s government has pressed harder toward Brexit.

      The government was forced by petition to stage a debate on December 11 on whether there should be a referendum on the EU exit deal. It is worth quoting in the government’s official position in detail, because it shows how fundamentalist the government’s stance has become.

    • Seventy-seven nation industrial reserve army

      The story told by the “Paradise Papers” is ultimately about the core structural fault-line in capitalism between capital and labour. That fault-line has sheared a great distance because the relations in practice are extremely complex, with hyper-exploited labour and tax-privileged capital operating in different jurisdictions and connected only through global value chains. This article considers (1) the nature of “offshore”, (2) the global context of labour exploitation, (3) the structural relation between the two, and (4) the policy challenges that these issues might present to a future social democrat in No 10.

    • More Ohio Amazon workers relying on food aid

      Almost overnight, Amazon has become one of Ohio’s largest employers, with more than 6,000 workers and thousands more to be added soon at three more big warehouses. It has also become one of the largest employers of workers who need food assistance to get by.

      As of last August, 1,430 Amazon employees or family members were getting assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), according to the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services. That ranked the company 19th among all Ohio employers. Just months before, it wasn’t even in the top 50.

    • The secret lives of students who mine cryptocurrency in their dorm rooms

      Mark was a sophomore at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when he began mining cryptocurrencies more or less by accident.

      In November 2016, he stumbled on NiceHash, an online marketplace for individuals to mine cryptocurrency for willing buyers. His desktop computer, boosted with a graphics card, was enough to get started. Thinking he might make some money, Mark, who asked not to use his last name, downloaded the platform’s mining software and began mining for random buyers in exchange for payments in bitcoin. Within a few weeks, he had earned back the $120 cost of his graphics card, as well as enough to buy another for $200.

      From using NiceHash, he switched to mining ether, then the most popular bitcoin alternative. To increase his computational power, he scrounged up several unwanted desktop computers from a professor who “seemed to think that they were awful and totally trash.” When equipped with the right graphics cards, the “trash” computers worked fine.

  • AstroTurf/Lobbying/Politics

    • How Actual Smart People Talk About Themselves

      I’ve never met or interviewed Donald Trump, though like most of the world I feel amply exposed to his outlooks and styles of expression. So I can’t say whether, in person, he somehow conveys the edge, the sparkle, the ability to connect, the layers of meaning that we usually associate with both emotional and analytical intelligence.

      But I have had the chance over the years to meet and interview a large sampling of people whom the world views the way Trump views himself. That is, according to this morning’s dispatches, as “like, really smart,” and “genius.”

    • The psychiatrist who briefed Congress on Trump’s mental state: this is “an emergency”

      The longer Donald Trump is in office, the more he shocks and alarms us with his strange and extremely unpresidential behavior.

      From the incoherent, fallacious interview he gave the New York Times on December 28 to Tuesday’s tweet about his “nuclear button” to his smearing of Steve Bannon, the incendiary remarks keep getting more menacing and portentous of disaster. As Vox’s Ezra Klein recently wrote, “The president of the United States is not well.”

      But how unwell is he, really? Could the behavior be caused by some illness eating away at his mental capacity, or is it just bad behavior?

      This is a question of crucial importance, not just because the vice president and the Cabinet (or Congress) would need certainty about his mental incompetence to invoke the 25th Amendment and declare him unable to do his job — an option that, while still highly unlikely to be used, is now regularly being discussed.

      Of course, the question of his mental health would ultimately come down to a medical opinion. And no doctor, as far as we know, has evaluated the president’s mind for fitness to serve as president.

    • What Do You Do When the President Gets Trapped in an Elevator?

      It was about two minutes before noon on February 29, 1968, when the motorcade turned quickly out of the freezing rain and into the parking garage beneath the Pentagon’s riverside parade ground. The presidential stretch limousine pulled to a stop in front of the elevator leading to the office of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Lyndon Johnson emerged with a handful of aides and shook hands with the Secretary, who was waiting there for him.

      [...]

      White House Deputy Special Counsel Lawrence Levinson was one of the 13 crammed into the elevator, and recently described the event in an interview. “There was some gnashing of gears, but otherwise an unbelievable quiet … immediate thoughts were, ‘Why now? Was there something sinister going on?’”

      At the time, the world appeared to have been on fire. On top of the morass of the Vietnam War had become, the preceding year had seen eight military coups, realized or attempted, around the world, an almost unimaginable level of geopolitical chaos, even by today’s standards. Things were, at the very least, tense.

    • End of ‘free’ press? NYT caved in to Bush & Obama, held NSA bombshell for 1 yr – James Risen

      The New York Times was “quite willing” to quash stories at the behest of the government, writes Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter James Risen. He warns that America’s press has been muzzled by “hyped threats” to national security.

      In an in-depth retelling of his experience as a national security reporter for the New York Times (NYT), published in The Intercept, Risen explains how, on more than one occasion, the NYT yielded to government demands to withhold or kill his stories – including a bombshell report about the NSA’s secret surveillance program under President George W. Bush.

      Jaded by previous experiences of US government interference in his work, Risen writes that his NSA story set him on a “collision course” with his editors, “who were still quite willing to cooperate with the government.” His editors at the Times had been convinced by top US officials that revealing the illegal surveillance program would endanger American lives, Risen said.

    • Trump’s Voter Fraud Commission Is Gone, But Scrutiny Will Continue

      In an unexpected executive order on Wednesday night, President Donald Trump abruptly dissolved the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which he’d set up after alleging with no evidence that he lost the popular vote because of millions of illegal votes. In a statement, he said the Department of Homeland Security will take up the commission’s mantle while avoiding the “endless legal battles” that bedeviled the commission in its brief existence. (For a history of the commission’s many woes and stumbles, see ProPublica’s chronology.) But experts say the scrutiny and resistance that the commission faced will persist. They are skeptical DHS will achieve the results Trump claims.

      “Having watched the commission go up in flames, I don’t know that DHS personnel would be eager to follow their lead,” said Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola University School of Law and former Department of Justice civil rights official. “You don’t normally want to be the second person to jump on a live grenade.”

    • The President Who Doesn’t Read

      Ironically, it was the publication of a book this week that crystallized the reality of just how little Donald Trump reads. While, like many of the tendencies described in Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, Trump’s indifference to the printed word has been apparent for some time, the depth and implications of Trump’s strong preference for oral communication over the written word demand closer examination.

      “He didn’t process information in any conventional sense,” Wolff writes. “He didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-­literate.”

    • New Reporting Suggests the Trump Presidency Is Even Scarier and More Dysfunctional Than We Realized
    • Mark Zuckerberg’s New Year’s Resolution Is a Huge Deal for Facebook — and the World
    • Woman who accused Roy Moore is homeless after her house burned down, fire investigated as arson

      Tina Johnson accused Roy Moore of sexually assualting her in 1991, when she was 28, making her a rare adult to be preyed upon by the delusional pedophile mall-crawler.

      Last week, her home in Gadsden, Alabama burned down. Now, the fire is being investigated as a possible arson by the Etowah County Arson Task Force.

      Roy Moore ran as a “law and order” candidate.

    • Roy Moore Accuser Tina Johnson Has Lost Her Home in a Suspected Arson Fire

      Tina Johnson, one of Roy Moore’s accusers, lost her home in a fire on Wednesday, January 3, Al.com reports. According to the outlet, the incident is now being investigated as arson.
      Neither Johnson nor any of her family members were injured in the fire; however, the Gadsden, Alabama resident said that she is “devastated” about the incident. “We have just the clothes on our backs,” she added, explaining that she is currently living at a motel.
      Natalie Barton, public information officer with the Etowah County Sheriff’s Department, told Al.com that there is a suspect of interest who is being questioned. However, Barton added that there have not been any formal charges made at this time.

    • Trump is now dangerous – that makes his mental health a matter of public interest

      Eight months ago, a group of us put our concerns into a book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. It became an instant bestseller, depleting bookstores within days. We thus discovered that our endeavours resonated with the public.

      While we keep within the letter of the Goldwater rule – which prohibits psychiatrists from diagnosing public figures without a personal examination and without consent – there is still a lot that mental health professionals can tell before the public reaches awareness. These come from observations of a person’s patterns of responses, of media appearances over time, and from reports of those close to him. Indeed, we know far more about Trump in this regard than many, if not most, of our patients. Nevertheless, the personal health of a public figure is her private affair – until, that is, it becomes a threat to public health.

      To make a diagnosis one needs all the relevant information – including, I believe, a personal interview. But to assess dangerousness, one only needs enough information to raise alarms. It is about the situation rather than the person. The same person may not be a danger in a different situation, while a diagnosis stays with the person.

    • ‘Never seen anything like it’: Trump’s bizarre video message to the press becomes hilarious new meme

      US President Donald Trump made his first appearance in a White House briefing on Thursday (4 January) — in a brief recorded video — and the internet cannot stop taunting him for it. In an unusual move, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders opened the briefing by playing the video in which Trump touted his recently passed tax cut bill that was signed just before Christmas.

    • Trump’s attacks against a biased liberal media obscure one fact: it doesn’t exist

      Everyone loves to hate the media for its supposed liberal bias but Donald Trump, never one to lose at things, has taken it to new heights.

      Trump has called the media “highly slanted”, “fake news”, and “the enemy of the American people”. Like so much of what he says, his claims need fact-checking, all the more so because the myth has been around much longer than Trump. Years before he was politically center stage, Sarah Palin dubbed it the “lamestream” liberal media, while to Newt Gingrich it was simply the “elite media”. Trump just did what he does best: supercharge the myth.

      To the extent the claim has truth, it is limited to the political persuasions of editorial staffers, many of whom exercise relatively little editorial control. The more salient questions around bias, then, have little to do with staffer headcounts, and more with the allegiances and affiliations of owners. They also, in this increasingly polarized news environment, have to do with the sources where Americans get their news.

      [...]

      It’s no wonder then so many Fox News Republicans find it easier to disregard, say, the overwhelming evidence of climate change: a full 47% cited the conservative cable network as their main source for news. No other political news source even came close. Among the parallel group of liberal respondents, no single outlet was named by more than 15%.

      Even to the extent political bias can be said to be about individual staffers in individual newsrooms, the portrait is far from crystal clear. Newsroom headcounts do favor Democrats over Republicans, but not as much as they favor independents: as of 2013, just 7% identified as Republicans, while 28% declared themselves Democrats, according to a 2014 survey by Indiana University. But more than half of those surveyed identified as independents, the highest on record since the survey began.

      [...]

      And of course, political bias isn’t the only bias at work. In the difficult financial reality faced by today’s media, many outlets and their reporters are more beholden than ever to billionaires and their large corporations. Both those things, Trump’s broadsides against Jeff Bezos notwithstanding, skew conservative. So too does the racial and gender makeup of the media’s most powerful personalities, who are overwhelmingly white and male.

    • Ghosts in the Propaganda Machine

      Is this what online journalism looks like in the era of Russiagate fever? A fake writer (read Alice Donovan) catfishes CounterPunch and a dozen other online websites. A handful of her articles are published over a two-year period. The FBI is tracking her and believes this writer, whoever is behind the moniker, has some ties to Russia. What kind of ties and how deep do they go? We aren’t sure. No evidence is presented, perhaps because there isn’t much, or perhaps because the NSA and the FBI are also spying on actual journalists and editors right along with the alleged imposters. The Washington Post calls for a quote on the FBI’s allegation and runs an article a month later on Kremlin operatives “burning across the internet”.

      More panic ensues.

      But only one troll was named in the Washington Post piece, Alice Donovan — our suspected interloper. Prior to the Post’s article, we found out Donovan likely was not who she claimed to be and was a plagiarist to boot. We apologized for our screw-up and issued a lengthy investigation into the whole Donovan ordeal and the challenges of vetting writers in the fast-paced world of cyber-journalism. The story ends there, or does it?

      For the record, what you are about to read isn’t typical fare here at CounterPunch. We aren’t in the business of investigating the legitimacy of other independent media outlets, their editors, their contributors or even their motives. In the muddy trenches of online journalism, we often find sympathy and camaraderie with others trudging the same difficult terrain. We strongly believe in the tenets of a free and unfettered press. We’d much rather save our energy to cover the issues we face day in and day out; environmental degradation, corporate and political corruption, war, abuses of power and all those brave souls fighting back. Even so, for better or worse, we are still journalists, and when a story begins to reveal itself, we have no choice but to dig deeper and follow the trail where it leads us.

    • In Search of Trump’s Ideology

      Is Donald Trump a rightwing ideologue – perhaps a libertarian like Ted Cruz or a “nationalist” (as per the current euphemism) like his former “brain” (the best he ever had) and BFF Steve Bannon? It might seem that he is one or the other or (somehow) both, given what he has been up to in recent years.

      But this is a trick question. Trump is not a rightwing ideologue because he is not an ideologue at all. The very idea gives him too much credit.

      Indeed, Trump has no settled political convictions. How could he? If his tweets are any indication, he cannot even hold a thought for more than a day or two. He just goes with whatever is on his mind.

      But because his is a one-track mind, it can seem that there is some consistency underlying “the blooming buzzing confusion,” as the philosopher and psychologist William James (1842-1910) described the human baby’s first encounter with the external world.

    • James Risen, the New York Times and the Sliming of Wen Ho Lee

      The collapse of the government’s case against Wen Ho Lee represents one of the greatest humiliations of a national newspaper in the history of journalism. One has to go back to the publication by the London Times of the Pigott forgeries in 1887 libelling Charles Stewart Parnell, the Irish nationalist hero, to find an equivalent debacle.

      Yet not a whisper of contrition, not a murmur of remorse, has as yet agitated the editorial pages of the New York Times, which now righteously urge the appointment of a “politically independent person of national standing to review the entire case”.

      No such review is required to determine the decisive role of the New York Times in sparking the persecution of Wen Ho Lee, his solitary confinement under threat of execution, his denial of bail, his shackling, the loss of his job, the anguish and terror endured by this scientist and his family.

      On March 6, 1999, the Times carried a report by James Risen and Jeff Gerth entitled “Breach at Los Alamos” charging an unnamed scientist with stealing nuclear secrets from the government lab and giving them to the Chinese Peoples’ Republic. The espionage, according to a security official cited by Risen and Gerth, was “going to be just as bad as the Rosenbergs”.

    • How Progressives Can Compete for Major Office: A Class Analysis of Political Paralysis

      The Green Party won 45 local seats nationwide in 2017 for a total of 141 in 18 states.

    • How White Nationalists Hide in Academia

      In the wake of World War II, and the advancements in the physical and social sciences, the idea of race as a meaningful category had not only been largely abolished, but the cruel consequences of racial pseudo-science were undeniable. This did not completely end this false scholarship, however, but it forced a certain coded language that justified racist thinking while abandoning the cultural baggage that open racialism often carries.

      Started in 1937 when “racial hygiene” was still a popular concept, the Pioneer Fund was created by industrialist Wickliffe Draper to support scientific research that validated ideas on eugenics, racial segregation and immigration restriction. Their journal, the Mankind Quarterly, has been publishing this race-related research for decades now, and their grants continue to climb off their hefty endowment. In the 1960s, education psychologist Arthur Jensen made a name for himself by arguing racial differences in the capacity of young children to learn, with the term “Jensenism” being coined for his line of thinking. The Jensenist argument was that IQ was largely heritable, and that certain genes found in particular populations were correlative to higher IQs. It was exactly this “hereditarian” concept that drove Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s 1994 touchstone The Bell Curve, which mined Pioneer Fund research to support a radically anti-egalitarian vision of human intellect and wealth acquisition.

      Evolutionary psychology was plagued by figures like these for decades, constructing the notion that human beings evolved into hierarchical social divisions, and that their abilities were fixed rather than socially malleable. J. Philippe Rushton became one of the most controversial figures in his field when he openly argued for racial differences in innate IQ, using “twin studies” to try and prove that IQ was highly heritable and, therefore, if he could find Black populations with low IQs, they would likewise be deficient as a group. He went on to argue bizarre theories, like Black people have a high predilection for aggression because of their dark skin color, and that penis size is correlative to IQ. Today, scientists like Richard Lynn continue to argue strict racial hierarchies using this logic, arguing that nations have developed more or less wealthy not because of colonial expansion and access to resources, but because of brain size and natural intelligence.

    • Democracy Is Not a Choice

      As we enter 2018, one thing is clear: just as we need it most, Americans’ commitment to democracy seems to be fading. Frightened by President Trump’s lies about the prevalence of voter fraud, a majority of Republicans say they’re open to the idea of postponing the 2020 election. Even more disturbing, one in six of us now say we’d settle for military rule.

      It’s time American patriots face a hard but liberating truth: Democracy — governance accountable and responsive to the people — is not a choice; it’s the only pathway to protect life on Earth as we’ve inherited it and to realize humanity’s potential. The reason is simple. Only democracy can call forth the best in us, while keeping our worst in check.

      We need only look at what history has shown time and again to elicit the worst. It is democracy’s opposite, showing up in three conditions.

      First, concentrated power. From Nazi Germany to Stalinist Russia to Maoist China, when power moves into the hands of a few, decent people commit unspeakable acts. Moreover, concentrated economic power itself saps the life out of a society, document UK social epidemiologists, as it correlates with a vast range of social and physical ills, from homicide to mental illness. Tightly held economic power also typically translates into political power, leading to the oxymoron “privately-held government.” In ours, a fraction of 1 percent of Americans gain vast influence by footing most of the billions our elections now cost.

    • A Short History of the Brief and Bumpy Life of the Voting Fraud Commission

      The controversy that swirled around the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity far exceeded its output. The commission made no decisions, issued no reports, and consequently had no impact on election laws. The group’s existence was brief: Its creation was announced in March. It had its first meeting in July, its second in September, and as of yesterday, it is no more.

    • How the System Got Trumped: Cambridge Analytica’s Electoral Psyops Campaign

      Including the director Thomas Huchon, “Trumping Democracy” was the product of a creative team that despite (or, perhaps because of) its French provenance has a sharper focus on our national calamity than MSNBC, CNN and all the other usual suspects. Huchon’s last documentary “Conspi Hunter” was based on a bogus conspiracy theory about the CIA inventing the AID virus in order to subvert Cuba. He released the film online in order to show how quickly and easily conspiracy theories can go viral on the Internet. Given the role of Breitbart News and Infowars in the Trump campaign, it was logical that Huchon would make his latest film a kind of follow-up to “Conspi Hunter”.

      The film begins with a visit to an artist named Scott Lobaido, who lives on Staten Island—the only borough in New York that favored Trump. Lobaido might be better described as an illustrator since most of his work is just one cut above the velveteen portraits of JFK or Elvis Presley that used to adorn some households in years past. This is a painting displayed prominently on the home page of his website.

  • Censorship/Free Speech

    • A President Who Attempts to Ban Books That Expose Him Should Be Impeached

      The most jarring development was the authorization by the president of the United States of a move by his lawyers to block the publication of the book that details his dangerous duplicity and scorching incompetence. After an initial excerpt from the book was published, and additional excerpts began to circulate in Washington, Trump’s legal team moved on Thursday to block its publication.

    • Why Twitter Won’t Be Blocking Donald Trump’s Tweets Any Time Soon
    • UK gov admits porn age checks could be easily bypassed and lead to fraud

      Digital Minister Matt Hancock has now signed off on an impact assessment for the new system (part of the Digital Economy Act 2017), which has undergone a slight change in the last five years.

      The plan now is to force all UK broadband ISPs to block websites containing pornographic content unless they implement age verification.

    • Twitter explains why it hasn’t banned President Trump
    • Twitter explains why it won’t delete Trump’s account
    • German satire magazine Titanic back on Twitter following ‘hate speech’ ban

      The Twitter account of Titanic, a German satirical magazine, went back online Friday after it had been suspended for more than 48 hours for violating hate speech rules.

      In a press statement, Titanic’s chief editor Tim Wolff said he was glad that Twitter had settled the issue “so bureaucratically and slowly,” and that the paper would again have “the chance to take Twitter to task from our own account.”

      Titanic’s account was suspended on Tuesday for a series of tweets by an imagined Beatrix von Storch, the deputy parliamentary group leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party — shortly after the politician was suspended from Twitter. “Her” tweets from Titanic included a joke about watching the world darts championship final on Monday night: “White men getting drunk and shooting stuff, a last bastion of our Germanic traditions.”

    • The Chinese Communist Party has growing sway in Western universities

      The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) real and potential influence over higher education outside its borders came to the public’s attention last month when The Economist featured CCP “sharp power” influence – including in higher education – on its cover. Its briefing article drew its terminology from a report by the US-based National Endowment for Democracy. The Woodrow Wilson Center published a detailed report about the CCP’s effort to curry political influence abroad, including in academia. Observers are increasingly paying attention to CCP influence in areas of publishing, student exchange, classroom instruction, and research.

    • China’s ‘Long Arm’

      The first time it happened, when Carrico was teaching at a university in the United States, a student informed him that a presentation he’d given about the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989 had been reported to his father in China, where the father held a position in government. “This was a situation where the father’s superiors — I wasn’t given a lot of specifics — but his superiors mentioned this to him and raised this as something that [the father] should know about, supposedly,” said Carrico, who’s now a lecturer in Chinese studies at Australia’s Macquarie University.

    • Beware Chinese Influence but Be Wary of a China Witch Hunt

      The recent spate of articles and books on rising Chinese influence in the Australian and New Zealand political systems has prompted U.S. officials, journalists, and others to take a harder look at how Beijing is shaping U.S. policy toward China. Already there have been articles in the press suggesting that university and think tank scholars are likely targets for Chinese influence. Yet before any steps are taken to counter this perceived influence, we need to spend time understanding the nature and implications of what the Chinese government is doing to ensure not only that we get the response right but also that we protect against a witch hunt in which American scholars and analysts are attacked with innuendo instead of real evidence. My personal observations suggest that there are some fairly straightforward challenges that Chinese influence presents to U.S. political integrity and, in some cases, equally straightforward measures that the United States government as well as private institutions and actors can undertake to respond.

    • Foreign Academics Confront Chinese Censorship

      At the same time, some people caution that labeling “Chinese influence” with too broad a brush will launch a backlash against individual Chinese students and scholars.

    • Tech Firms Boost Censorship as Legal Challenge Proceeds

      The regulators’ content complaints echo similar demands last year, including an investigation of Weibo, Tencent’s WeChat, and Baidu’s Tieba which led to small but symbolically significant fines against the three companies.

      Toutiao was also operating its online news service without the appropriate license according to Caixin, which noted that the New York-listed Phoenix News had also been accused of exceeding the terms of its license to republish content by adding its own original reporting. It was reportedly ordered to suspend two channels as a result.

    • Jared Hirsch (Mozilla): An idea for fixing fake news with crypto [Ed: On “trustworthy news” from untrustworthy Mozilla]

      Here’s a sketch of an idea that could be used to implement a news trust system on the web. (This is apropos of Mozilla’s Information Trust Initiative, announced last year.)

    • Three months in hell

      Germany has become one of Facebook’s most important hubs for content moderation – also fueled by a controversial new law that requires social media companies to effectively remove hate speech and violence. In Berlin and Essen more than 1000 people work as Facebook Content Moderators, most of them employed by the outsourcing company Arvato, a subsidiary of Bertelsmann, one of Germany’s most powerful companies. Yet the work and the rules of content moderation is done in secrecy. In a year-long investigation, our reporters Hannes Grassegger and Till Krause spoke to dozens of current and former content moderators working for Facebook in Germany and have written several award-winning reports (»Inside Facebook«) that made the working conditions and deletion rules (»The secret rules of Facebook«) of Facebook public. Recently they have been contacted by Burcu Gültekin Punsmann, a former employee who, for the first time, gives a personal account of her work as a content moderator. We have slightly shortened and edited her piece for clarity.

      As a new comer to Berlin in July 2017, I found myself in a job in content moderation at Arvato. Curiosity has a been a main driver. I accepted the very unappealing job offer and entered into a world I haven’t suspected the existence of. I was recruited as an outsourced reviewer and became one of the thousands of Facebook Community Operations team members around the world working in some 40 languages. Berlin, draining well-educated multilingual cheap labor from all over the world, has recently developed, as I would learn, as new center for Facebook content moderation, as the German government toughened the legislation against hate speech.

    • Organizing resistance to Internet censorship
    • Governments and corporations escalate Internet censorship and attacks on free speech

      The year 2018 has opened with an international campaign to censor the Internet. Throughout the world, technology giants are responding to the political demands of governments by cracking down on freedom of speech, which is inscribed in the US Bill of Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and countless international agreements.

      Bloomberg, the financial news service, published a blog post titled “Welcome to 2018, the Year of Censored Social Media,” which began with the observation, “This year, don’t count on the social networks to provide its core service: an uncensored platform for every imaginable view. The censorship has already begun, and it’ll only get heavier.”

    • 10 film titles which sound dirty when you censor them
    • Fake News, Real Censorship

      So far as Twitter is concerned, it’s understandable enough why the company did what it did. To be sure, Twitter is less even-handed in its approach to free speech than it pretends, but it’s hard to imagine that its decision will not have been influenced by the prospect of a massive fine should it have contravened Germany’s new censorship laws, laws so broadly drawn that even the UN was concerned.

  • Privacy/Surveillance

    • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements, deadlines and facts

      Companies that collect data on citizens in European Union (EU) countries will need to comply with strict new rules around protecting customer data by May 25. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is expected to set a new standard for consumer rights regarding their data, but companies will be challenged as they put systems and processes in place to comply.

      Compliance will cause some concerns and new expectations of security teams. For example, the GDPR takes a wide view of what constitutes personal identification information. Companies will need the same level of protection for things like an individual’s IP address or cookie data as they do for name, address and Social Security number.

    • Let’s talk advertising

      All I ask, before we start, is that you at least take a quick glance through what I’ve posted in my People vs. Adtech series. Much of it addresses options publishers have in a world where readers are fully in charge—which they will be. We can also help in a big way, because one of our primary intentions, as we move forward with Linux Journal 2.x, is to explore and pioneer new business models for publishing and journalism in the networked world. We’ve only had commercial activity in that world since 1995. So it’s still early, and the sky is open to the stars. There are lots of ways we can go.

    • New US Customs guidelines limit copying files and searching cloud data

      Officers can still request that people unlock electronic devices for inspection when they’re entering the US, and they can still look through any files or apps on those devices. But consistent with a statement from acting commissioner Kevin McAleenan last summer, they’re explicitly banned from accessing cloud data — per these guidelines, that means anything that can’t be accessed while the phone’s data connection is disabled.

    • New York State Appellate Court Says Cell Site Location Records Have No Expectation Of Privacy

      The Supreme Court will deliver its ruling on the issue of cell site location info later this year, possibly changing the contours of the Third Party Doctrine for the first time since its erection out of thin air more than four decades ago. Until then, a patchwork of decisions has been handed down by state courts, some finding state law provides more protection for cell phone users than the US Constitution. At the federal level, however, years of precedent has resulted in a mostly-unified front by appellate courts. According to their decisions, cell site location info is a third-party record, undeserving of Fourth Amendment protections.

    • How smart speakers stole the show from smartphones

      In the first nine months of 2017, 17.1m smart speakers shipped worldwide, according to Canalys’s data, but a further 16.1m were shipped in the last quarter of the year driven by Christmas present sales.

  • Civil Rights/Policing

    • Trump Is Undermining the 2020 Census. Marginalized Communities Will Bear the Brunt.

      Thanks to interventions by the current administration, vulnerable groups stand to lose the most in the upcoming census.

      The United States census is constitutionally required to happen every 10 years, making 2020 the next year that this massive population and housing count will take place. Its importance is enormous. The results of the census will determine how more than $675 billion in public funds are allocated and spent, the number of seats allotted for each state in the U.S. House of Representatives, and how congressional and legislative districts are drawn.

      Making sure that the census is accurate, accessible, and impartial should be the government’s top priority. Unfortunately, the Trump administration seems intent on undermining such a goal in the run-up to the Census in 2020.

    • A Cruel Holiday Gift for Refugee Families

      Now again, in this holiday season — eight years after the quake — they’re reliving this fear and uncertainty. The Trump administration has moved to end the TPS program, causing many Haitians to face deportation after July 2019.

      For these Haitian immigrants, TPS offered a chance to start fresh and build a new life — an opportunity that’s hard to come by in Haiti, a country that’s spent decades struggling with widespread poverty.

      Widespread poverty that the US has contributed to both economically and politically.

    • 2017 Year in Review: Turning Lemons into Lemonade

      If there’s one lesson labor can draw from the events of 2017, it’s this—to survive and grow in the face of a nationally coordinated employer offensive, we’ll have to use the attacks against us as organizing opportunities.

      Everywhere you look workers are either on the defensive or just plain getting crushed. Take anti-union “right-to-work” laws, which weaken union strength and budgets by giving workers covered by union contracts a short-term financial incentive to opt out of membership. Since Kentucky fell in January, the entire South is right-to-work.

    • ACLU Will Represent an American Citizen in U.S. Military Detention Abroad

      In a video meeting at the Pentagon, the man told the ACLU he wants to challenge his detention with the group’s help.

      Almost four months after an American citizen was secretly detained by the U.S. military in Iraq, and three months after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion demanding access to him, ACLU lawyers were finally able to meet with the man to ask whether he wants to challenge his detention with ACLU representation.

      The citizen, who the government admits requested an attorney months ago, is grateful to finally have the assistance he had long requested, and confirmed that he wants to fight his detention with the ACLU’s help. Today, we filed an update informing the judge overseeing the case of his wishes. Because he has concerns about his name becoming public, he asked that we not disclose any identifying information about him.

      The meeting, which took place by video at the Pentagon on Wednesday, came after a federal judge, in a late-night ruling on Dec. 23, ordered the government to provide the ACLU with immediate, unmonitored access to the detainee, who hadn’t been aware of the ongoing case until shortly before he met the ACLU lawyers. The government has been holding him since September as an “enemy combatant,” claiming, without presenting any evidence, that he fought for ISIS. After news reports revealed that the U.S. government was imprisoning an American citizen, the ACLU filed a habeas corpus petition with the federal district court in Washington, D.C., demanding the government justify his detention. We also filed an emergency motion demanding that the government provide us with contact with him.

    • Minnesota Prosecutor Charges Sexting Teenage Girl With Child Pornography

      In Rice County, Minnesota, a 14-year-old girl’s life could be ruined because she sexted a boy she likes.

      A 14-year-old Minnesota girl is fighting criminal charges that have the potential to destroy her future, including her ability to obtain housing, to enroll in college programs, and even to pursue some career paths. Her case does not involve harm to others. It does not involve damage to property. And it does not have anything to do with illegal substances.

      Rather her young life could be ruined all because she sent an explicit Snapchat of herself to a boy she liked.

      In the case, Jane Doe used the phone-based application Snapchat to send a revealing selfie to a boy at her school in Southern Minnesota. He went on to make a copy and distribute it to other students without Jane’s permission. Even though Jane didn’t victimize anybody, Rice County’s prosecutor charged her with felony distribution of child pornography. A conviction, or even a guilty plea to a lesser charge, would require Jane to spend 10 years on the sex offender registry.

    • Baltimore Prosecutor Admits He Was Wrong to Block Request to Alter Alford Plea

      Three weeks after ProPublica published a story detailing how a Baltimore prosecutor had failed to abide by the terms of a plea agreement, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office has reversed course.

      Prosecutor Rich Gibson filed a motion in Baltimore City Circuit Court last week saying he had erred and asking a judge to schedule a new hearing for Demetrius Smith. Smith had tried in July to revise a dubious plea deal by asking the judge for a sentence modification that would have essentially cleared his record. Gibson had opposed his request and wrongly claimed the judge didn’t have the power to change Smith’s sentence.

      “Demetrius should not be saddled with a felony conviction, and we are grateful that the court has another opportunity to consider Demetrius’s case,” Barry Pollack, Smith’s pro bono lawyer, said in an email.

    • Erica Garner: Rest in Peace … and Justice

      Erica Garner has died at the age of 27. The loss of this remarkable young African-American woman is incalculable. She was a tireless activist and a mother of two; her death was attributed to an asthma-induced heart attack four months after the birth of her second child, her son, Eric. Erica, like her son, was named after her father, Eric Garner, whose chokehold death at the hands of the New York Police Department on July 27, 2014, was captured on video and became a flashpoint in the fight against police brutality, further galvanizing the Black Lives Matter movement. Erica worked tirelessly for justice for her father.

    • The Overton Window and Trump’s Judges

      In its first year in power the Trump administration has done to the federal judiciary what it has done more broadly to American political discourse. It has moved the courts far to the right, beyond prior boundaries, by relentlessly nominating conservative ideologues, with and without appropriate experience, to life-tenured jobs on the bench. Thanks to the Republican-controlled Senate, which has rushed to confirm most of these picks, we now have a growing cadre of Federalist Society-infused jurists who will be meting out their particular brand of injustice for generations to come.

      Justice Neil Gorsuch, now ensconced on the Supreme Court, is the most notable example of the political theory known as the “Overton Window.” It posits that there is a relatively narrow range of ideas politicians can consider and still win re-election. However window can be moved right or left by the persistent introduction and discussion of once-unthinkable ideas. President Trump has moved the window with his racist, ignorant, nativistic, and misogynistic rhetoric. His administration has moved the window with prejudiced, self-defeating, delusional policies. And the White House’s judicial picks have changed the nature of our conversation about what it means to be an Article III judge.

    • Israel Says Jewish Voice for Peace on BDS Blacklist, Activists Will Not Be Allowed Entry

      The left-wing organization Jewish Voice for Peace has been placed on a BDS blacklist being compiled by Israel, the Strategic Affairs Ministry confirmed on Saturday, following a report by the Israel Television News Company.

    • After Erica Garner’s Death, I Can’t Breathe Through the Tears

      Three weeks before her death, anti-police violence activist Erica Garner spoke in an interview of the trauma and struggle that caused Kalief Browder’s mother to die of heart problems—literally, a broken heart. Browder was the 16-year-old boy from the Bronx accused of stealing a backpack in 2010 who then spent three years in an adult prison, often in solitary, without being convicted. After he was released, he struggled with mental health and eventually took his own life.

    • The Fallout of Police Violence Is Killing Black Women Like Erica Garner

      On Christmas Eve, Erica Garner suffered a massive heart attack which caused extensive brain damage. She died on Dec. 30. This latest loss emphasizes something we have known: Black women are dying from the trauma of police violence and this issue must be grappled with before more die.

    • Has rape become a weapon to silence atheists in Bangladesh?

      It’s no longer news that non-believers and members of minority communities face random persecution by Islamists in Bangladesh.

      Five years ago, the Awami League government, which claims to be secular, introduced draconian penalties for blasphemy by electronic publishers by amending section 57 of the Information & Communication Technology Act.

      This amendment aimed to curb free speech and targeted bloggers and writers who were trying to promote secular values in a civilised and peaceful way. Atheists were brutally attacked and several were killed in subsequent bloodbaths in 2015 and 2016.

      Sexual violence has also been used against atheist bloggers, including 22-year-old Nirala*, a young feminist of Singhalese origin. She was gang raped in 2016, and fled Bangladesh in 2017.

  • Internet Policy/Net Neutrality

    • Tech Giants to Join Legal Battle Over Net Neutrality

      The Internet Association, the industry’s primary lobbying organization, announced Friday that it plans to join lawsuits aimed at halting the Federal Communications Commission’s December action to repeal Obama-era net neutrality rules. Those rules banned internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon from blocking or otherwise discriminating against legal content online. The association represents dozens of smaller companies in addition to titans such as Google and Facebook.

    • Takeaways from my foray into amateur radio
  • Intellectual Monopolies

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  1. Links 1610/2018: Linux 4.19 RC8, Xfce Screensaver 0.1.0 Released

    Links for the day



  2. Judge-Bashing Tactics, Undermining PTAB, and Iancu's Warpath for the Litigation and Insurance 'Industries'

    Many inter partes reviews (IPRs) at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) leverage 35 U.S.C. § 101 against software patents; instead of putting an end to such patents Director Iancu decides to just serve the 'industry' he came from (a meta-industry where his firm had worked for Donald Trump)



  3. 'Cloud', 'AI' and Other Buzzwords as Excuses for Granting Fake Patents on Software

    With resurgence of rather meaningless terms like so-called 'clouds' (servers/hosting) and 'AI' (typically anything in code which does something clever, including management of patents) the debate is being shifted away from 35 U.S.C. § 101 (Section 101); but courts would still see past such façade



  4. Corporate Media's Failure to Cover Patents Properly and Our New Hosting Woes

    A status update about EPO affairs and our Web host's plan to shut down (as a whole) very soon, leaving us orphaned or having to pay heavy bills



  5. Links 15/10/2018: Testing Ubuntu 18.10 Release Candidates, KaOS 2018.10 Released

    Links for the day



  6. USPTO FEES Act/SUCCESS Act Gives More Powers to Director Iancu, Supplying Patents for Litigation 'Business' and Embargo (ITC)

    Corruption of the US patent system contributes to various issues which rely on the extrajudicial nature of some elements in this system; companies can literally have their products confiscated or imports blocked, based on wrongly-granted patents



  7. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit Decides That USPTO Wrongly Granted Patents to Roche

    Patent quality issues at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) — motivated by money rather than common sense — continue to be highlighted by courts; the USPTO needs to raise the bar to improve the legal certainty associated with US patents



  8. Even Judge Gilstrap From Texas is Starting to Accept That Software Patents Are Invalid

    Amid new lawsuits from Texas (e.g. against Citrix) we’re pleased to see that even “reprehensible” Rodney Gilstrap (that’s what US politicians call him) is learning to accept SCOTUS on 35 U.S.C. § 101



  9. Federal Circuit Doubles Down on User Interface Patents, Helps Microsoft-Connected Patent Trolls Curtail the Prime Competitor of Microsoft Office

    Patent trolls that are connected to Microsoft continue to sue Microsoft rivals using old patents; this time, for a change, even the Federal Circuit lets them get away with it



  10. Let's Hope Apple Defeats All the Abstract Patents That Are Leveraged Against It

    Apple can be viewed as a strategic 'ally' against patents that threaten Android/Linux if one ignores all the patent battles the company started (and has since then settled) against Android OEMs



  11. EPO Insider/Märpel Says President Campinos Already Acts Like Battistelli

    Unitary Patent (UPC) is a step towards making the EPO an EU institution like the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO); but it's not making any progress and constitutional judges must realise that Campinos, chosen by Battistelli to succeed him, is just an empty mask



  12. Quality of Patents Granted by the EPO is Still Low and Nobody Will Benefit Except Lawyers, Jubilant Over Growing Lenience on Software Patents

    Deterioration of patent quality at the EPO — a serious problem which examiners themselves are complaining about — is becoming rather evident as new guidelines are very lenient on software patenting



  13. 100 Days Into the Term of Campinos There is Already an EPO Suicide

    A seventh known suicide at the EPO since the so-called 'reforms' began; the EPO continues to pretend that everything is changing for the better, but in reality it's yet more nepotism and despotism



  14. Links 13/10/2018: Ubuntu Touch OTA-5, MidnightBSD 1.0 Ready

    Links for the day



  15. Links 11/10/2018: PostgreSQL 11 RC1 Released, Librem 5 Loves GNOME 3.32

    Links for the day



  16. Friend Brings a Friend, Boss Becomes Subordinate: the EPO Under António Campinos is Starting to Look a Lot Like Team Battistelli 2.0

    The new President of the EPO contributes to the perception that the Office is a rogue institution. Governance is all in reverse at the Office because it still seems like the Office President bosses the Council rather than be bossed by it (as intended, as per the EPC)



  17. UPC Cowardice: Team UPC Uses Cloaks of Anonymity to Discredit Authors of Scholarly UPC Paper They Don't Like

    Team UPC has sunk to the bottom of the barrel; now it uses anonymous letters in an effort to discredit work of Max Planck Institute staff, in the same way (more or less) that ad hominem attacks were attempted against the filer of the constitutional complaint in Germany



  18. New EPO Guidelines: Granting European Patents on Business Methods, Algorithms, Mental Acts and Other Abstract Stuff

    Keeping so-called 'production' high and meeting so-called 'targets' (allegedly set by Battistelli), Campinos relaxes the rules for "computer-implemented inventions" (one among many misleading terms that mean software patents in Europe)



  19. Open Invention Network is a Proponent of Software Patents -- Just Like Microsoft -- and Microsoft Keeps Patents It Uses to Blackmail Linux Vendors

    OIN loves Microsoft; OIN loves software patents as well. So Microsoft's membership in OIN is hardly a surprise and it's not solving the main issue either, as Microsoft can indirectly sue and "Microsoft has not included any patents they might hold on exfat into the patent non-aggression pact," according to Bradley M. Kuhn



  20. Links 10/10/2018: Unreal Engine 4.21 Preview, Red Hat Openshift Container Platform 3.11

    Links for the day



  21. Links 9/10/2018: Plasma 5.14, Flatpak 1.2 Plan

    Links for the day



  22. Greg Reilly Inadvertently Makes a Case for Replacing/Improving the Patent System With a Wiki, Editable by All as Society Moves Forward

    Editable patents make a lot more sense in the age of the Internet and the World Wide Web; companies that rode the wave of the Net are themselves changing their patents on the go, sometimes because they simply attempt to dodge an evolving patenting criterion which nowadays looks down on software patents



  23. The USPTO's Principal Issue is Abstract Patents (or Patent Scope), Not Prior Art Searches

    In spite of the fact that US courts prolifically reject patents for being abstract (citing 35 U.S.C. § 101) Cisco, Google, MIT, and the USPTO go chasing better search facilities, addressing the lesser if not the wrong problem



  24. António Campinos Makes Excuses for Granting European Patents on Software in Spite of the EPC

    Continuing the horrid tradition of Battistelli, António Campinos sends patent quality -- the one aspect which the EPO was once renowned for -- down the drain (or down the shredder, for lack of a better and more timely metaphor)



  25. Antibody Patents Should Not be Allowed (Nor Should CRISPR Patents)

    The patent extremists are still trying to patent life (and/or nature) and their arguments typically boil down to, "there's money in it, so why the heck not?"



  26. Links 8/10/2018: Linux 4.19 RC7, Mageia 6.1, Calculate Linux 18

    Links for the day



  27. The Federal Circuit Continues to 'Lecture' the Patent Office on Patent Scope and Limits, But Iancu Isn't Listening

    Sadly, the district court have not fully caught up (at least not yet) with SCOTUS; they're more USPTO-friendly.



  28. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Under Andrei Iancu Subjected to an Assault on Patent Quality

    Donald Trump has let the litigation industry 'govern' itself at the USPTO; all it has accomplished so far is even greater divergence between USPTO determinations and those of actual courts (which means that the USPTO does not follow the law, there’s a state of lawlessness)



  29. When It Comes to Patent Quality António Campinos Might be Even Worse Than Benoît Battistelli

    The lack of genuine interest in the quality of European Patents is perhaps a greater threat to the whole of Europe — if not the whole world — than well-documented human rights abuses and corruption inside the Office; António Campinos has shown no interest in improving patent quality as he denies such a problem even exists and he reduces transparency



  30. In Spite of Campaigns Against It, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) Squashes Software Patents by the Hundreds Per Month, Patent Maximalists Still Try to Stop It

    Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) inter partes reviews (IPRs) achieve exactly what they were set out to do; those who view patent quality as a foe, however, aren't happy and they still try to undermine PTAB IPRs by any means possible (or at least slow them down considerably)


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