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01.17.19

Links 17/1/2019: ZFS Debate Returns, AWS Pains Free Software

Posted in News Roundup at 12:31 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

GNOME bluefish

Contents

GNU/Linux

  • Desktop

    • Elementary OS Challenge Day 1: Filling In The Audio App Gap

      So, elementary OS 5 ships with a perfectly serviceable Music app visually reminiscent of a stripped-down iTunes, but there are better alternatives inside the AppCenter.

      Melody by Artem Anufrij ($3 or pay what you want) doesn’t do everything under the sun, but what it does do works fast and works well.

      Melody feels modern without feeling bloated, and also offers a sorting option that I appreciate: the ability to view your music library by artist, and then chronologically by album. It also remembers the position of your currently playing track if you close and reopen the software.

    • Android-x86 8.1 Officially Released, Lets You Run Android 8.1 Oreo on Your PC

      The Android-x86 Project announced the general availability of the Android-x86 8.1-r1 stable release, a GNU/Linux distribution that lets you run Google’s Android mobile operating system on your PC.
      After entering development last year in June, the Android-x86 8.1 release, which is based on the latest Android 8.1 Oreo mobile operating system, saw two RC (Release Candidate) builds that allowed testers to try the upcoming OS on their PCs. Three months after the last RC build, the Android-x86 8.1 release is now finally stable and ready for mass adoption.

      Software rendering is also possible on unsupported GPU devices with OpenGL ES 2.0 support via SwiftShader, and Android-x86 8.1 also comes with support for hardware accelerated codecs on devices powered by Intel HD and Intel G45 graphics cards series. For newer Intel and AMD GPUs, this release adds experimental Vulkan support available via Advanced options on the boot menu.

    • The 15-minute Chromebook tune-up

      As far as computers go, Chromebooks are almost shockingly low-maintenance. Google’s Chrome OS operating system updates itself silently and automatically — as do most of the core apps associated with the platform — and it doesn’t get gunked up and slowed down over time, as traditional operating systems tend to do. There’s no antivirus software to fret over, either, and little in the way of complicated settings or compatibility concerns. By and large, things “just work” — like, for real.

    • Ten Years After – Part II – Opening Worlds

      “My college room mate my freshman year did me a big favor by introducing me to Virtual Box, so the few times I needed Windows software, I had the environment I needed to run it. But those times were few and far between. Of course it helped to have a room mate that used Linux too. I was actually surprised to find out how many students did use Linux and Chromebooks. I didn’t encounter a fraction of the problems you said I might run into”.

      However, Trella told me that during her graduate work, there were a couple of specific softwares she needed for chemistry, that required a bit more horsepower than a Virtual Box environment and five gigs of RAM. I’ve passed that software onto those who might be able to get the right people to look at it. But other than that, she did just fine with her Linux computer throughout her college career.

    • Chrome OS Linux apps to gain access to Android ‘Play files’ folder

      Chrome OS is rapidly becoming a serious player in the Linux field. Now, Google seems to be further integrating the Linux app support with the existing Android app support by allowing the Chrome OS Linux apps to access files from the separated ‘Play files’.

      To keep things naturally secure, among other reasons, Chrome OS keeps its native files, the ‘Play files’ used by Android apps, and the ‘Linux files’ available to Linux apps neatly separated. If you wish to work on something with an Android app then switch to working on it from a Linux app, you currently need to copy the file from one container to the other.

      Google’s Chromium team is working to allow users to break down that barrier, according to a work-in-progress commit posted last week to the Chromium Gerrit source code management. The goal of the work is to allow users to share contents of the ‘Play files’ folder with Linux apps, just as can currently be done with the Downloads folder.

    • What is a Google Chromebook?

      You’ve probably seen the term Chromebook mentioned on the internet, and you might be wondering what they are, and how they differ from regular laptops.

      In this guide we’ll explain what a Chromebook is, list the pros and cons of the devices, and help you decide whether or not a Chromebook is right for you.

      If you’re after in-depth buying advice on specific models, check out our Should I Buy a Chromebook? and Best Chromebook guides.

    • What’s your favorite desktop Linux distribution?

      So, for our annual poll, we pulled the top 15 distributions according to DistroWatch over the past 12 months. It’s not scientific—but it’s something to start with, and we had to cull it down somehow.

      Did your favorite distribution fall short of the cut-off point? Let us know what it is in the comments. And no matter what distro you choose, be sure to let us know why it’s your favorite. What’s so great that makes it your distribution of choice?

    • The Top 4 Ways Your Linux Computer Can Earn You Money

      Computers, whether they run Linux or not, as a rule, don’t tend to be cheap. However, what if I was to tell you that you can offset at least some of that cost by using the machine itself? Well, you can, and below you can find out exactly how to do this.

    • What Should We Expect from Linux in 2019?

      There are a lot more questions about what the open source community will do this year like would Ubuntu finally have stable support for fractional scaling? Will snap apps finally blend in perfectly with the UI of the distros they run on by default? Which distros will be the most innovative?

      Which features will you like to see any Linux distros and open source apps this year? Do you have any hints or inside information on the cool improvements to come? Tell us all about it below in the comments section.

  • Server

    • Leveraging OpenShift or Kubernetes for automated performance tests (part 3)

      This is the third of a series of three articles based on a session I held at EMEA Red Hat Tech Exchange. In the first article, I presented the rationale and approach for leveraging Red Hat OpenShift or Kubernetes for automated performance testing, and I gave an overview of the setup. In the second article, we looked at building an observability stack. In this third part, we will see how the execution of the performance tests can be automated and related metrics gathered.

    • Ansible vs. Puppet: Declarative DevOps tools square off

      DevOps aims to drive collaboration between development and operations teams, but software quality drives DevOps adoption more than any other factor. As this comparison of Ansible vs. Puppet shows, software quality dramatically influences DevOps tools.

      Software quality tends to be an organizational goal or a staff function, not the dominion of a dedicated group with broad responsibility to implement its decisions. Effective software quality efforts involve everyone from development to production users to ensure real value.

    • An Introduction to the Machine Learning Platform as a Service

      Machine-Learning-Platform-as-a-Service (ML PaaS) is one of the fastest growing services in the public cloud. It delivers efficient lifecycle management of machine learning models.

      At a high level, there are three phases involved in training and deploying a machine learning model. These phases remain the same from classic ML models to advanced models built using sophisticated neural network architecture.

    • SUSE Partners with Intel and SAP to Accelerate IT Transformation with Persistent Memory in the Data Center

      SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications is the FIRST enterprise Linux optimized for Intel® Optane™ DC persistent memory with SAP HANA® workloads.

    • Puppet on DevOps: practitioners (not managers) are the new champions

      With a foundation in open source, Puppet is championing a world of what it calls ‘unconstrained software change’… presumably an even more intense version of Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Delivery (CD).

    • Architectural learning curve for the private cloud

      Just about everybody is familiar with Docker; about half as many know Kubernetes. But how about Istio? Docker and Kubernetes may be the foundation of your private cloud, but it turns out they might not be enough.

      Here are some very interesting and easily accessible numbers from Twitter: Docker has 304,000 followers and Kubernetes has 121,000. On the other hand, Helm, Istio and Prometheus Monitoring have fewer than 15,000 followers each.

  • Audiocasts/Shows

  • Kernel Space

    • Systemd 241 Paired With Linux 4.19+ To Enable New Regular File & FIFO Protection

      The Linux 4.19 kernel brought the ability to disallow the opening of FIFOs and regular files not owned by the user in world-writable sticky directories in the name of security. Had this ability been around previously it could have prevented a number of CVEs going back a long time. In helping ensure this functionality gets utilized, Systemd 241 will now set these sysctl options to enable the behavior by default.

      The restricted O_CREAT of FIFOs and regular files is not enforced by the kernel by default as it could be considered a breaking change but with systemd 241+ it sets the fs.protected_regular and fs.protected_fifos sysctls to enabled for having said functionality, similar to systemd’s enforcing of hardlink/symlink protection. This protection is for avoiding unintentional writes to an attacker-controlled FIFO or regular file. That Linux 4.19 kernel commit notes at least a handful of security vulnerabilities that could have been prevented by this functionality with those CVEs going back to at least the year 2000.

    • The rest of the 5.0 merge window

      Linus Torvalds released 5.0-rc1 on January 6, closing the merge window for this development cycle and confirming that the next release will indeed be called “5.0″. At that point, 10,843 non-merge change sets had been pulled into the mainline, about 2,100 since last week’s summary was written. Those 2,100 patches included a number of significant changes, though, including some new system-call semantics that may yet prove to create problems for existing user-space code.

    • A setback for fs-verity

      The fs-verity mechanism, created to protect files on Android devices from hostile modification by attackers, seemed to be on track for inclusion into the mainline kernel during the current merge window when the patch set was posted at the beginning of November. Indeed, it wasn’t until mid-December that some other developers started to raise objections. The resulting conversation has revealed a deep difference of opinion regarding what makes a good filesystem-related API and may have implications for how similar features are implemented in the future.
      The core idea behind fs-verity is the use of a Merkle tree to record a hash value associated with every block in a file. Whenever data from a protected file is read, the kernel first verifies the relevant block(s) against the hashes, and only allows the operation to proceed if there is a match. An attacker may find a way to change a critical file, but there is no way to change the Merkle tree after its creation, so any changes made would be immediately detected. In this way, it is hoped, Android systems can be protected against certain kinds of persistent malware attacks.

      There is no opposition to the idea of adding functionality to the kernel to detect hostile modifications to files. It turns out, though, there there is indeed some opposition to how this functionality has been implemented in the current patch set. See the above-linked article and this documentation patch for details of how fs-verity is meant to work. In short, user space is responsible for the creation of the Merkle tree, which must be surrounded by header structures and carefully placed at the beginning of a block after the end of the file data. An ioctl() call tells the kernel that fs-verity is to be invoked on the file; after that, the location of the end of the file (from a user-space point of view) is changed to hide the Merkle tree from user space, and the file itself becomes read-only.

    • Pressure stall monitors

      One of the useful features added during the 4.20 development cycle was the availability of pressure-stall information, which provides visibility into how resource-constrained the system is. Interest in using this information has spread beyond the data-center environment where it was first implemented, but it turns out that there some shortcomings in the current interface that affect other use cases. Suren Baghdasaryan has posted a patch set aimed at making pressure-stall information more useful for the Android use case — and, most likely, for many other use cases as well.

    • ZFS On Linux Landing Workaround For Linux 5.0 Kernel Support

      Last week I reported on ZFS On Linux breaking with Linux 5.0 due to some kernel symbols sought by this out-of-tree file-system driver no longer being exported and the upstream developers not willing to adjust for the ZoL code. That’s still the case but the ZFS On Linux developers have a patch so at least the file-system driver will be able to build on Linux 5.0.

      This ZOL + Linux 5.0 issue stems from a set of functions used by this ZFS Linux port for vectorized file-system checksums no longer being exported. The kernel developers don’t want to re-export the functionality since as Greg Kroah-Hartman put it, “my tolerance for ZFS is pretty non-existant.”

      Since that Phoronix article last week, Greg KH followed up on the mailing list with, “Sorry, no, we do not keep symbols exported for no in-kernel users.” Longtime Linux kernel developer Christoph Hellwig also suggested users switch instead to FreeBSD if caring about ZFS.

    • Graphics Stack

      • Generations of GeForce GPUs in Ubuntu

        If you are running an Ubuntu system with an older GPU and are curious about upgrading but unsure if it is worth it, Phoronix has a great review for you. Whether you are gaming with OpenGL and Vulkan, or curious about the changes in OpenCL/CUDA compute performance they have you covered. They even delve into the power efficiency numbers so you can spec out the operating costs of a large deployment, if you happen to have the budget to consider buying RTX 2060′s in bulk.

      • Intel To Eventually Explore Offering A Graphics Control Panel For Linux Systems

        Intel’s Linux graphics driver stack has never offered its own vendor-specific driver control panel GUI like is common among all major graphics vendors on Windows, but instead they’ve opted for the command-line experience and making use of common interfaces with what’s offered by the different desktop environments for resolution handling, multi-monitor setup, etc. But moving forward they may end up bringing a new graphics driver control panel to Linux.

      • Mesa 19.0 Deprecates GNU Autotools Build System In Favor Of Meson

        Last month was a proposed patch that would have killed the Autotools build system within Mesa. Developers have decided for the upcoming Mesa 19.0 release not to eliminate this GNU Autotools support but rather to mark it as deprecated and require an extra flag in order to make use of it.

        Hitting Mesa Git master today was the patch deprecating Autotools support within Mesa in favor of the Meson build system. It hasn’t been determined when the Autotools scripts will be removed themselves, but for now if wanting to enable the support you need to pass –enable-autotools to acknowledge the fact that it’s been deprecated.

  • Applications

  • Desktop Environments/WMs

    • GNOME Desktop/GTK

      • Builder 3.32 Sightings

        We just landed the largest refactor to Builder since it’s inception. Somewhere around 100,000 lines of code where touched which is substantial for a single development cycle. I wrote a few tools to help us do that work, because that’s really the only way to do such a large refactor.

        Not only does the refactor make things easier for us to maintain but it will make things easier for contributors to write new plugins. In a future blog post I’ll cover some of the new design that makes it possible.

        Let’s take a look at some of the changes in Builder for 3.32 as users will see them.

      • GNOME Software Package Manager to Feature Better Flatpak Support for GNOME 3.32

        GNOME Software, the app used for installing, updating, and removing software from your GNOME-based GNU/Linux operating system, will get a major revamp in functionality for the upcoming GNOME 3.32 desktop environment.
        A new development snapshot of GNOME Software 3.32 landed this week with lots of improvements for the Flatpak universal package format, allowing new permissions for Flatpak updates and displaying permissions for installed Flatpak apps. GNOME Software also now shows correct version numbers for installed Flatpaks.

        The update mechanism for Flatpak apps was switched to use a single transaction, allowing the GNOME developers to share more code with the flatpak command-line utility, and it looks like GNOME Software 3.32 will offer better support for installing Flatpak repository files, also known as flatpakref, and for Flatpak plugins.

  • Distributions

    • OpenSUSE/SUSE

    • Fedora

      • Fedora Still Needs Help Testing The New Zchunk Metadata Support

        Fedora has been working on transitioning to Zchunk for its DNF metadata due to its good compression ratio while being delta-friendly and leveraging the existing work of Zstandard and Zsync/casync. The metadata has been offered in Zchunk for some weeks while more client testing is needed before landing that support in Rawhide and in turn for Fedora 30.

        The goal of this Zchunk metadata for Fedora is to speed-up DNF operations by needing to download less metadata. While the server bits are in place, additional client testing is desired before landing the updated packages in Fedora Rawhide where it will affect all users on this development build of Fedora ahead of the Fedora 30 release due out in the spring.

      • NOTICE: Epylog has been retired for Fedora Rawhide/30

        Epylog is a log analysis code written by Konstantin (“Icon”) Ryabitsev, when he was working Duke University in the early 2000′s. It was moved to FedoraHosted and then never got moved to other hosting afterwords. The code is written in early python2 syntax (maybe 2.2) and has been hacked to work with newer versions over time but has not seen any major development since 2008. I have been sort of looking after the package in Fedora with the hopes of a ‘rewrite for Python3′ that never got done by me.

    • Debian Family

      • Derivatives

        • Deepin 15.9 Released with Touchscreen Support, Various Fixes

          There’ll little else like Deepin Linux in the distro ecosystem. It has its own bespoke desktop, custom apps, and is a true standout in a sea of (sometimes) broadly samey desktops.

          The first major update to the China-based distro this year, Deepin 15.9 features a number of improvements, optimisations, and refinements.

        • deepin 15.9 Linux distribution is here with new multi-touch gestures and improved power management

          Since Microsoft will be ending Windows 7 support in less than a year, many computer users will have to decide if they will move onto the much-maligned Windows 10. Alternatively, depending on their needs, they could opt for a Mac or Chromebook. But what if you are happy with your current computer and don’t want to buy new hardware? In that case, Linux can save the day. The excellent Netrunner, for instance, is a great option for Windows switchers that fear a change of user interface.

          If you are open to moving away from the traditional Windows-like interface, another superb Linux distribution to consider is deepin. If you aren’t familiar, deepin is a very stable operating system that focuses heavily on appearance. Quite frankly, it puts Windows 10 to shame in that regard — its “Deepin Desktop Environment” is far superior to the dated and boring interface found on Microsoft’s latest operating system. Today, deepin 15.9 becomes available for download with a huge list of changes, including new multi-touch gestures and improved power management.

        • Canonical/Ubuntu

          • Notepad++ Snap App Review

            Notepad++ is a lightweight and popular programmer’s text editor, originally developed for MS Windows Operating System, and now available on Snap Store for Linux users.

            The program is developed using C++, hence, the name Notepad++. Its official website claims to save more CO2 emission by utilizing fewer resources and CPU. Nonetheless, Notepad++ comes equipped with many useful features like syntax highlighting, buffer restoring, automatic code indentation, etc.

  • Devices/Embedded

Free Software/Open Source

  • Get started with CryptPad, an open source collaborative document editor

    There seems to be a mad rush at the beginning of every year to find ways to be more productive. New Year’s resolutions, the itch to start the year off right, and of course, an “out with the old, in with the new” attitude all contribute to this. And the usual round of recommendations is heavily biased towards closed source and proprietary software. It doesn’t have to be that way.

    Here’s the fifth of my picks for 19 new (or new-to-you) open source tools to help you be more productive in 2019.

  • SalesAgility Launches SuiteCRM 7.11

    SalesAgility has released SuiteCRM 7.11 with several bug fixes, new workflows, Elasticsearch, and Google calendar synchronization.

    Elasticsearch is an open-source RESTful search engine to centrally store and index data. SuiteCRM will now provide users a faster and more scalable way to perform full text searches via Global Search on larger data volumes than before.

  • The essential guide to open source virtualization platforms

    Open source virtualization platforms offer adopters the chance to reduce licensing costs and avoid vendor lock-in, while still providing robust virtualization features.

    IT administrators who adopt open source might have less support than they would from a major vendor, so they must be adept at troubleshooting or garnering help from open source communities. Open source virtualization adopters might also consider vendors such as Red Hat that can provide support and integration services.

  • Events

    • Richard Stallman to speak at MSU-Bozeman
    • 2019 Linux Foundation events include ELC shows in San Diego and Lyon

      The Linux Foundation announced its 2019 schedule of events, including new events about Ceph and gRPC. The Embedded Linux Conference will co-locate with the Open Source Summit in San Diego on Aug. 21-23.

      Now’s the time to schedule your plans for Linux events, most of which occur under the umbrella of the Linux Foundation. The LF has revealed its 2019 calendar for conferences, including two new events: Cephalocon, which will explore the world of the Ceph storage standard and gRPC Conf, which covers gPRC Remote Procedure Call technology. In 2018, Linux Foundation events attracted more than 32,000 attendees from more than 11,000 organizations across 113 countries. The LF expects 35,000 participants in 2019.

  • Web Browsers

    • Mozilla

      • Mozilla Has Axed Firefox Test Pilot

        If you were a fan of the Mozilla Test Pilot programme, I’ve some bad news to share: it’s being axed.

        Mozilla has announced that is closing the Test Pilot programme effective January 22, 2019.

        Launched three years ago, the Test Pilot programme was a playground in which Mozilla could test innovative new Firefox features and experiment with new or unusual types of browser functionality.

        Successful tests often ‘graduated’ from playground to product, going on to be incorporated in to Firefox itself (screenshots, containers, activity stream). Others popular tests became standalone products or made freely available add-ons (notes, lockbox).

      • L10n report: January edition
  • Databases

    • MongoDB “open-source” Server Side Public License rejected

      MongoDB is open-source document NoSQL database with a problem. While very popular, cloud companies, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), IBM Cloud, Scalegrid, and ObjectRocket has profited from it by offering it as a service while MongoDB Inc. hasn’t been able to monetize it to the same degree. MongoDB’s answer? Relicense the program under its new Server Side Public License (SSPL). Open-source powerhouse Red Hat’s reaction? Drop MongoDB from Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 8.

      Red Hat’s Technical and Community Outreach Program Manager Tom Callaway explained, in a note stating MongoDB is being removed from Fedora Linux, that “It is the belief of Fedora that the SSPL is intentionally crafted to be aggressively discriminatory towards a specific class of users.” Debian Linux had already dropped MongoDB from its distribution.

  • CMS

    • WordPress Partners with Google News to Launch Open Source Platform for Newsrooms

      On January 14, 2019, WordPress announced the launch of Newspack by WordPress, an Open Source Platform for Newsrooms which will begin operations in mid-2019 with backing from ConsenSys, Civil media and others.

    • Automattic announces Newspack to help news organizations publish and monetize

      WordPress, the open-source project that lets you create websites on WordPress.com, is already a solid content management system (we use it at TechCrunch). But it becomes more difficult to use once you want to monetize your content using subscriptions, metered paywalls and user accounts. WordPress doesn’t have a native solution for that.

      That’s why Automattic is working on a platform for news organizations — think about it as a version of WordPress specifically designed for news organizations. The company wants to help local news organizations more specifically, as those media companies don’t necessarily have a ton of development resources.

  • Pseudo-Open Source (Openwashing)

  • FSF/FSFE/GNU/SFLC

    • An Absence of Strategy?

      I keep starting articles but not finishing them. However, after responding to some correspondence recently, where I got into a minor rant about a particular topic, I thought about starting this article and more or less airing the rant for a wider audience. I don’t intend to be negative here, so even if this sounds like me having a moan about how things are, I really do want to see positive and constructive things happen to remedy what I see as deficiencies in the way people go about promoting and supporting Free Software.
      The original topic of the correspondence was my brother’s article about submitting “apps” to F-Droid, the Free Software application repository for Android, which somehow got misattributed to me in the FSFE newsletter. As anyone who knows both of us can imagine, it is not particularly unusual that people mix us up, but it does still surprise me how people can be fluid about other people’s names and assume that two people with the same family name are the same person.
      Eventually, the correction was made, for which I am grateful, and it must be said that I do also appreciate the effort that goes into writing the newsletter. Having previously had the task of doing some of the Fellowship interviews, I know that such things require more work than people might think, largely go either unnoticed or unremarked, and as a participant in the process it can be easy to wonder afterwards if it was worth the bother. I do actually follow the FSFE Planet and the discussion mailing list, so I’d like to think that I keep up with what other people do, but the newsletter must have some value to those who don’t want to follow a range of channels.

  • Licensing/Legal

    • GPL Cooperation Commitment: Promise of Collaborative Interpretation [Ed: IP Kat perpetuates the Microsoft-connected (and funded) lie that GPL “popularity has dropped dramatically during the past decade,” citing Jono Bacon and Microsoft-funded ‘analysts’, proxies like Black Duck. To this date, in light of the GitHub takeover, Microsoft managers are badmouthing the GPL and many anti-GPL ‘studies’ are based on this Microsoft site alone.]

      GNU General Public Licence version 2 (GPLv2) was written in the early nineties to ensure compliant distribution of copyleft-licensed software. Even though its popularity has dropped dramatically during the past decade, it nevertheless continues to be one of the most widely used and important open source licences.

      Notedly, GPLv2 was drafted by non-legal free (as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer”) software enthusiasts and yet it has necessitated legal interpretation and application in accordance with IP and contract law principles. For nearly two decades, compliance and enforceability of the licence by its users has had to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty with respect to its terms.

    • HMD releases source code for Nokia 8 Sirocco

      HMD has released the source code for Nokia 8 Sirocco and it is now available for download on the official Nokia website.

    • HMD released the source code for Nokia 8 Sirocco

      The Open source releases webpage was refreshed once more, now with the source code files for beautiful Nokia 8 Sirocco.

    • AWS mixes toxic cocktail for open source

      There is currently a crisis unfolding in the open source world, with a number of companies changing their licensing to protect revenue. This has arisen due to a potentially toxic situation where public cloud providers have introduced managed services based on free open source products.

    • MongoDB “open-source” Server Side Public License rejected

      MongoDB is open-source document NoSQL database with a problem. While very popular, cloud companies, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), IBM Cloud, Scalegrid, and ObjectRocket has profited from it by offering it as a service while MongoDB Inc. hasn’t been able to monetize it to the same degree. MongoDB’s answer? Relicense the program under its new Server Side Public License (SSPL). Open-source powerhouse Red Hat’s reaction? Drop MongoDB from Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 8.

    • Amazon Ditches MongoDB, Launches Rival

      The rationale given by Amazon is that customers find it challenging to build performant, highly available applications on MongoDB that can quickly scale to multiple Terabytes because of the complexity that comes with setting up and managing MongoDB clusters. Amazon DocumentDB implements the Apache 2.0 open source MongoDB 3.6 API by emulating the responses that a MongoDB client expects from a MongoDB server, allowing customers to use their existing MongoDB drivers and tools with Amazon DocumentDB.

      However, there’s a lot that’s not included in that view of the situation. Amazon and AWS has in the past been criticized for taking open-source software, doing some work on it then rebranding it without necessarily playing fair with the original developers. The thinking seemed to be that just having Amazon using your software was enough of a reward.

    • AWS has broken open source software

      Amazon Web Services (AWS) and other infrastructure as a service companies have broken the standard open source revenue model. The former model was that you wrote software to solve a problem you were having. This was usually a problem being experienced by many people. You could earn a decent living supporting the software you created since you were the creator of the software. People would come to you with questions or pay you to create additional functionality.

      Let’s say you created software to store lots of information in computer memory and retrieve it quickly. This is something that many other people would like to do too. Rather than write their own software they will use the software and pay you for support when they have questions or issues.

      If Amazon Web Services (AWS) or other infrastructure as a service companies decide to use your software, suddenly users of your software have a decision: do they pay Amazon to support the software or do they pay you for support. In general, most companies will choose Amazon since they are a well-known commodity and that is the decision with the least risk.

    • Why I Just Sold Most of My MongoDB Stake

      The “Death Star” has reared its head for MongoDB. Not the Death Star from Star Wars , but the company that cable mogul John Malone once compared to that ominous space station: Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) .

      Amazon Web Service’s huge cloud infrastructure has allowed the company to expand into databases over time, but its efforts had been limited to the Aurora SQL database and the DynamoDB database. Dynamo is a nonrelational database closer to MongoDB; however, DynamoDB was not open-source, like MongoDB.

    • Open Source Software At A Crossroads

      Last week, AWS announced on its blog the launch of DocumentDB, a MongoDB-compatible database. As some pundits have pointed out, this is clearly a reaction to MongoDB, Inc.’s new and highly-restrictive license called the Server Side Public License (SSPL)—a move which the publicly-traded MongoDB made in order to protect its revenue position.

      Earlier last year, Redis Labs learned a hard lesson in community relations management when it took a less dramatic step: while offering its Redis database under a permissive license, it changed the licensing on its add-on modules to the “Commons Clause”, so service providers would need to pay for their use. While communication could have been clearer, the action itself is similar in intent to what MongoDB did, and to what many other open source companies have attempted or plan to attempt to do.

  • Openness/Sharing/Collaboration

    • Open Call for Humanitarian Design Challenges

      All designs and documentation of the solution will be freely published online as Open Source, to the benefit of you, users and other stakeholders, future (student) teams and anyone interested.

  • Programming/Development

    • gVisor: Building and Battle Testing a Userspace OS in Go

      Adin Scannell talks about gVisor – a container runtime that implements the Linux kernel API in userspace using Go. He talks about the architectural challenges associated with userspace kernels, the positive and negative experiences with Go as an implementation language, and finally, how to ensure API coverage and compatibility.

    • Rust bindings for GStreamerGL: Memoirs

      Rust is a great programming language but the community around it’s just amazing. Those are the ingredients for the craft of useful software tools, just like Servo, an experimental browser engine designed for tasks isolation and high parallelization.

      Both projects, Rust and Servo, are funded by “>”>Mozilla.

      Thanks to Mozilla and Igalia I have the opportunity to work on Servo, adding it HTML5 multimedia features.

      First, with the help of Fernando Jiménez, we finished what my colleague Philippe Normand and Sebastian Dröge (one of my programming heroes) started: a media player in Rust designed to be integrated in Servo. This media player lives in its own crate: servo/media along with the WebAudio engine. A crate, in Rust jargon, is like a library. This crate is (very ad-hocly) designed to be multimedia framework agnostic, but the only backend right now is for GStreamer. Later we integrated it into Servo adding an initial support for audio and video tags.

      Currently, servo/media passes, through a IPC channel, the array with the whole frame to render in Servo. This implies, at least, one copy of the frame in memory, and we would like to avoid it.

      For painting and compositing the web content, Servo uses WebRender, a crate designed to use the GPU intensively. Thus, if instead of raw frame data we pass OpenGL textures to WebRender the performance could be enhanced notoriously.

    • proc-macro-rules
    • Analyzing Robinhood trade history
    • What should be in the Python standard library?

      Python has always touted itself as a “batteries included” language; its standard library contains lots of useful modules, often more than enough to solve many types of problems quickly. From time to time, though, some have started to rethink that philosophy, to reduce or restructure the standard library, for a variety of reasons. A discussion at the end of November on the python-dev mailing list revived that debate to some extent.

      Jonathan Underwood raised the issue, likely unknowingly, when he asked about possibly adding some LZ4 compression library bindings to the standard library. As the project page indicates, it fits in well with the other compression modules already in the standard library. Responses were generally favorable or neutral, though some, like Brett Cannon, wondered if it made sense to broaden the scope a bit to create something similar to hashlib but for compression algorithms.

    • A new free-software forge: sr.ht

      Many projects have adopted the “GitHub style” of development over the last few years, though, of course, there are some high-profile exceptions that still use patches and mailing lists. Many projects are leery of putting all of their project metadata into a proprietary service, with limited means of usefully retrieving it should that be necessary, which is why GitLab (which is at least “open core”) has been gaining some traction. A recently announced effort looks to kind of bridge the gap; Drew DeVault’s sr.ht (“the hacker’s forge”) combines elements of both styles of development in a “100% free and open source software forge”. It looks to be an ambitious project, but it may also suffer from a lack of “social network” effects, which is part of what sustains GitHub as the forge of choice today, it seems.

      The announcement blog post is replete with superlatives about sr.ht, which is “pronounced ‘sir hat’, or any other way you want”, but it is a bit unclear whether the project quite lives up to all of that. It combines many of the features seen at sites like GitHub and GitLab—Git hosting, bug tracking, continuous integration (CI), mailing list management, wikis—but does so in a way that “embraces and improves upon the email-based workflow favored by git itself, along with many of the more hacker-oriented projects around the net”. The intent is that each of the separate services integrate well with both sr.ht and with the external ecosystem so that projects can use it piecemeal.

      There are two sides to the sr.ht coin at this point; interested users can either host their own instance or use the hosted version. For now, the hosted version is free to use, since it is still “alpha”, but eventually one will need to sign up for a plan, which range from $2 to $10 per month, to stay on the hosted service. There are instructions for getting sr.ht to run on other servers; it uses nginx, PostgreSQL, Redis, and Python 3 along with a mail server and a cron daemon.

    • Wing Python IDE 6.1.4

      This minor release fixes using typing.IO and similar classes as type hints, improves handling of editor splits in goto-definition, fixes failure to install the remote agent, and fixes failure to convert EOLs in the editor. See the change log for details.

    • Create Panda 3D Game Project

      Hello, do you still remember that I have mentioned to you before that I will start another game project alongside the new pygame project? Well, I have not decided yet which game framework should I use to build the python game. Yesterday I had just came across Panda 3D which is a very attractive game framework that we can use to create the python game.

    • Top technical skills that will get you hired in 2019

      Landing the perfect IT job is never easy, but certain technical skills can smooth the way, especially if they’re in high demand. Job search platform Indeed has analyzed the fastest-growing terms used by job seekers when searching for tech jobs in 2019, and the results represent some significant changes over last year.

      “When people look for new jobs, they often use search terms that describe cutting-edge skills associated with the jobs they want,” says Daniel Culbertson, economist at Indeed. “On the employer side, the highly specialised tech talent who have these proficiencies are in great demand.”

    • 5 open source Go tools for tuning up your Golang mastery

      Love programming in Go? It’s hard not to fall in love with it, we know! Today we browsed through some Golang tools on GitHub and picked some of our favorites from the list. Far from exhaustive, this list highlights some of the best in show.

    • Executing Shell Commands with Python
    • Introduction to Python
    • Convert video from one format to another with python

Leftovers

  • Slack’s new logo is a penis swastika

    Behold the Brostika! Like the hidden arrow in the FedEx logo, Slack’s new brand has a negative-space surprise in store. The bars point the “lucky” left way, at least, rather than, well, to the right.

  • Fortnite made an estimated $2.4 billion last year

    While much of Fortnite’s revenue comes from selling character skins and emotes, SuperData says that 34 percent of all US players also purchased a seasonal “battle pass,” a feature that has since made its way to other online games like PUBG and Rocket League.

  • Engage more and dictate less in 2019

    “Says easy, does hard.” That’s a Southern expression I’ve really grown to appreciate. And it’s especially relevant this time of year, when people are making their 2019 resolutions. Change of any kind—either personal or organizational—can be easy to conceptualize in the abstract. But making that change, actually doing the work of changing, is much more difficult.

  • Science

    • Consequences of Trump’s ‘Egregious’ War on Science Mount as People and Planet Suffer

      With the Trump administration regularly putting its right-wing ideology ahead of scientific data and the common good, scientists are taking stock of the tangible damage President Donald Trump has done to the environment and public health as a direct result of the War on Science, two years into his term.

      Public health organizations and former government officials told the Guardian Wednesday about ways in which hostility toward science within numerous federal agencies have led to funding cuts for vital programs, dangerous regulatory rollbacks, and a severe lack of transparency on scientific facts from the government.

    • Turns out the science saying screen time is bad isn’t science

      A new study is making waves in the worlds of tech and psychology by questioning the basis of thousands of papers and analyses with conflicting conclusions on the effect of screen time on well-being. The researchers claim is that the science doesn’t agree because it’s bad science. So is screen time good or bad? It’s not that simple.

      The conclusions only make the mildest of claims about screen time, essentially that as defined it has about as much effect on well-being as potato consumption. Instinctively we may feel that not to be true; technology surely has a greater effect than that — but if it does, we haven’t found a way to judge it accurately.

  • Health/Nutrition

    • Could Trump’s Government Shutdown Cause Outbreaks of Wildlife Disease?

      The current U.S. government shutdown could worsen ongoing wildlife disease outbreaks or even delay responses to new epidemics, according to federal insiders and outside experts who work with federal wildlife employees.

      The shutdown — initiated by the Trump administration on Dec. 22 over a financing dispute for the president’s promised southern border wall — has already gone on to be the longest federal shutdown in U.S. history. It has halted virtually all work by federal employees in several agencies, including those tasked with caring for the nation’s wildlife.

      When the government is functioning normally, wildlife biologists on national parks and wildlife refuges investigate unusual wildlife deaths and send samples to federal labs that specialize in testing deceased animals for several types of disease. During this shutdown, however, monitoring and testing capabilities have been limited. Following federal shutdown contingency plans, the four major agencies tasked with testing for, responding to and monitoring wildlife disease outbreaks have significantly cut their staff, response and research activities. These agencies include the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service.

    • Congress Considers Bill to Defend Freedom of People With Disabilities

      On January 15, disability justice activists celebrated the reintroduction of the Disability Integration Act (DIA). This monumental piece of legislation is an important step forward for the full civil rights of those with disabilities.

      The DIA would ensure that people with disabilities have the right to live in their homes and receive services to do so. Insurance companies and state governments would be barred from discriminating against people with disabilities through imposing what is essentially segregation. Far too many of those with disabilities are forced into nursing homes and other institutions rather than given in-home supports they need, which are often less expensive than institutionalization.

      Once they are in nursing homes, people almost entirely lose their freedom: the freedom to choose not only where they live, but what they eat, who they spend time with, if and when they go out and return home, and more. They’re also at a higher risk of abuse by the staff.

      Many people live in nursing homes simply because there isn’t any accessible and affordable housing available to them. Access to housing is one of many barriers people with disabilities face. Under the DIA, the failure of a public entity to ensure “affordable, accessible, and integrated housing” to allow people with disabilities that require Long Term Services and Support, such as home health aides and attendants, to live in the community would be considered “discrimination.” There is also a provision that addresses how some forms of long-term support are only given based on tenancy in certain types of housing such as public housing.

      Even for those who are receiving services that allow them to live at home, there are still limitations placed on their freedom. Many programs require that individuals only receive help while they’re at home. Clients typically cannot choose the schedule on which their services are provided. These restrictions can diminish access to employment, education and community activities. Help with daily tasks, such as shopping, cooking for both the client and their dependents, or travel to medical appointments may not be available. Service providers can also refuse to help with tasks in the home. The DIA would address each of these issues.

    • The Government Shutdown Expands the Ranks of ‘Underwater Nation’

      Another 380,000 federal workers have been furloughed, including Coast Guard employees that are being encouraged to take on babysitting gigs and organize garage sales. They saw their last paycheck on December 22 and are scrambling to pay rent, mortgages, alimony, and credit card bills, let alone the groceries.

      The average federal employee isn’t wealthy, taking home a weekly paycheck of $500, according to American Federation of Government Employees, the union representing affected workers.

      The vulnerability they feel isn’t unusual. A majority of the U.S. population is living with very little by way of a savings cushion.

    • European Council Advances SPC Waiver For Generics; Negotiations Coming

      The European Union Council of member states has approved a mandate for negotiations with the EU Parliament concerning a draft regulation aimed at boosting EU-based generic and biosimilar manufacturing for export by providing an exception to the extended intellectual property protection granted by special protection certificates (SPCs). The mandate brings the draft regulation a step closer to adoption, and it also suggests that Parliament’s recent amendments to the regulation are likely be key areas of debate in the negotiations, which are expected to begin in the coming weeks.

  • Security

    • Oracle Patches 284 Vulnerabilities in January Critical Patch Update

      Oracle released its first Critical Patch Update for 2019 on Jan. 15, providing patches for 284 vulnerabilities.

      The January 2019 CPU addresses security vulnerabilities found across the Oracle software portfolio, including ones affecting database, middleware, Java, PeopleSoft, Siebel and E-Business Suite applications. Thirty-three of the vulnerabilities are identified as being critical with a Common Vulnerabilities Scoring System (CVSS) score of 9.0 or higher. CVSS is a standardized method for helping organizations understand the impact and severity of software vulnerabilities.

    • Microsoft Rolls Out New Updates for Different Versions of Windows 10, Includes Small Bug Fixes

      Just a week ago, Microsoft released its Patch Tuesday updates for all the supported versions of Windows 10. And now, the company has come up with new updates for Windows 10 versions 1709, 1803, and 1703. The cumulative updates released by the company do not include any security patches but has quite a few changes that have been rolled out. Here are the updates that Microsoft has rolled for the three versions of Windows 10.

    • Only XRP Private Keys That Used Software From Before August 2015 Are Vulnerable

      Ripple (XRP) software libraries published before August 2015 potentially rendered private keys which signed multiple transactions vulnerable, Ripple announced in a statement released on Jan 16.

      Recent research jointly conducted by the DFINITY Foundation and the University of California revealed that a portion of Bitcoin (BTC), Ethereum (ETH) and Ripple addresses are vulnerable.

      As is known among cryptographers, the security of Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithms (ECDAs) employed by the aforementioned cryptocurrencies is highly dependent on random data, which are known as nonces. The research further explains:

    • Major Security Breach Discovered Affecting Nearly Half of All Airline Travelers Worldwide

      According to ELAL, the bug stems from their supplier Amadeus’ (https://amadeus.com/en/industries/airlines) online booking system, which controls a staggering 44% market share of airlines operating worldwide, including United Airlines, Lufthansa, Air Canada, and many more. While booking a flight with ELAL, we received the following link to check our PNR: https://fly.elal.co.il/LOTS-OF-NUMBERS-HERE.

      By simply changing the RULE_SOURCE_1_ID, we were able to view any PNR and access the customer name and associated flight details.

    • Kubernetes flaw shows API security is no ‘set & forget’ deal

      When a report surfaced last month detailing a ‘severe vulnerability’ in Kubernetes, the popular, open-source software for managing Linux applications deployed within containers, many of us will have wondered what the deeper implications of this alleged flaw could mean.

      Although the flaw was quickly patched, it allowed any user to escalate their privileges to access administrative controls through the Kubernetes API server.

    • WordPress to show warnings on servers running outdated PHP versions
    • Top 10 app vulnerabilities: Unpatched plugins and extensions dominate
    • This Clever New Ransomware Attempts To Steal Your PayPal Credentials

      Meanwhile, PayPal offers two factor authentication which, when turned on, can offer a vital extra layer of security should your password and username be compromised, Moore says.

    • A deep dive into the technical feasibility of Bloomberg’s controversial “Chinese backdoored servers” story

      These denials also don’t add up: Bloomberg says it sourced its story from multiple (anonymous) sources who had direct knowledge of the incidents and who had been employed in the named organizations while they were unfolding. Bloomberg stood by its reporting, and implied that the idea that all these sources from different organizations would collude to pull off a hoax like this.

      Faced with the seemingly impossible task of sorting truth from hoax in the presence of contradictory statements from Big Tech and Bloomberg, technical experts began trying to evaluate whether the hacks attributed to the Chinese spy agencies were even possible: at first, these analyses were cautiously skeptical, but then they grew more unequivocal.

      Last month, Trammell Hudson — who has developed well-regarded proof-of-concept firmware attacks — gave a detailed talk giving his take on the story at the Chaos Communications Congress in Leipzig.

  • Defence/Aggression

    • Let’s Expose Congress Members for the Warhawks They Are

      As the nation continued to reel from President Trump’s shock decision last month to remove all U.S. troops from Syria, news came Wednesday that an unknown number of U.S. soldiers were among at least 15 killed in a bombing in northern Syria. Amid such continued violence, one would think the president’s withdrawal would have ever more urgency. And yet, just about everyone in Washington has attacked his decision to pull out.

      The reflexive hatred for Donald Trump that dominates the national conversation is bad for the U.S., especially when it comes to foreign policy. This is not to say that the president isn’t a flawed figure; after all, I’ve spent the better part of two years critiquing most of his policies. Still, when the man demonstrates prudent judgment—as in his recent calls to pull U.S. troops out of Syria and Afghanistan—he should be applauded. But that’s unlikely to happen in a divided America, as long as an interventionist, bipartisan consensus runs the show in Washington.

      Some call it the deep state, others the swamp—but the terminology hardly matters at this point. This forever-war crowd of congressional members, media pundits, arms industry CEOs and semiretired generals holds the reins on foreign policy in ways that are counter to the war-exhaustion instincts of both Trump and the American public. And it has to stop.

      [...]

      But the militarist elites don’t care what the people—especially Trump’s supporters—want. As far as they’re concerned, they alone know what’s good for America. Or so they’d have us believe. In reality, whether they’re election-obsessed legislators or ratings-obsessed media moguls, these interventionists all serve the same corporate masters. They play politics even when lives—both of U.S. troops and countless civilians—are at stake. That goes for pugnacious Republicans of the Lindsey-Graham mold, as well as hypocritical media celebrities like Rachel Maddow and her Democratic fan club. On the ostensible left, we’re even seeing an entire generation of born-again hawks rise in opposition to any and all de-escalation, even if those same liberal politicians and pundits would likely celebrate the same decision were it made by President Obama.

    • Europe’s Strategic Humanitarian Aid: Yemen vs. Syria

      The Syrian conflict will soon be into its ninth year, and the Yemen conflict into its fifth year. Both are major humanitarian disasters, with millions displaced amid unimaginable suffering. An estimated half a million have been killed in Syria, and over 100,000in Yemen.

      The West is deeply involved in both conflicts – supporting the opposition in Syria and the Kurdish areas, and providing arms and political support for the Saudi Arabian and Emirati led war on Yemen.

      The humanitarian aid provided to both crises is indicative of where priorities, Europe’s in particular, lie.

      From 2015 to 2018, the European Union (EU) and European countries have provided some $1.56 bnin aid to the UN Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan (YHRP), while providing roughly fifty percent more for Syria during the same period, $3.2 bn.

      In 2018, $4.03 bn was pledged (globally) to the UN’s YHRP. This is less than half the amount pledged to the UN’s Syria Humanitarian Response Plan, $8.96 bn. Furthermore, the Syria campaign received more funding for 2018 than the entirety of the Yemen conflict, some $8.6 bn (2015-2018). Over the same period, $12.6 bn was pledged for Syria. This is a huge difference, despite the number of people affected in both conflicts being similar.

      There are 5 million Syrian refugees and 6 million internally displaced, while 80 percent of Yemen’s 22.2 million people – a population on par with Syria’s 23 million – are in need of humanitarian or protection assistance, with 11.3 million in acute need.

      At a country level, Europe has been more ‘generous’ regarding the Syria campaign than for Yemen, despite 21 EU countries selling $86.9 bnin arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE (in 2015 and 2016), some 55 times more than the aid provided,as shown in figures I compiled for Middle East Eye.

    • China: An Ancient Country, Getting Older

      Saudi Arabia, rolling dunes, endless desert, little rain. Northern China. Verdant hills, green fields and this time of year, heavy snow. Yet there is less water available in northern China per head of population than in Saudi Arabia.

      With a fifth of the world’s population, China has about 7 per cent of the planet’s fresh water.

      Even the quality of what is available is poor. Tap water is undrinkable without being filtered heavily. Industrial waste and the flow of pesticides from fields contribute massively to pollution. At least 10, 000 petrochemical plants dot the banks of the Yangtze River. China has about 88,000 reservoirs but at least 40 percent are in a poor condition.

      Things are not much cleaner above ground. Massive strides have been taken too combat air pollution in northern China but it is still a cause for concern. The first two weeks of January have seen more polluted days, where levels of particulate matter 2.5 (often referred to as PM 2.5, because their diameter is 2.5 microns), exceed World Health Organization guidelines, than clear ones. Correct, enough of the science. But PM2.5 levels are a main topic of conversation in Beijing. It is not uncommon for conversations in shops or the train queues to mention PM2.5 levels.

    • America Has Its Gunsights on Venezuela

      Imperialism is a word that is rarely used these days. It is relegated to histories of colonialism in the distant past. There is little understanding of the suffocating way that financial firms and multinational businesses drive their agenda against the development aspirations of the poorer nations. There is even less understanding about the muscular attitude of countries such as the United States, Canada and the Europeans against states that they deem to be a problem.

      The gunsights were once firmly on West Asia and North Africa—on Iraq, Libya, Syria and Iran—but now they are focused on Latin America—on Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. These countries face economic sanctions and embargoes, threats of annihilation, covert operations and war. The definition of imperialism is simple: if you don’t do what we tell you to do, we’ll destroy you.

      Pressure on Venezuela has been intense. U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly called for the overthrow of the Bolivarian government, led by Maduro. Sanctions have been ratcheted up. Economic warfare has become normal. Threats of a military invasion are in the air.

    • Ground Zero Nagasaki

      Landing at Nagasaki Airport last November, I joined a line of Japanese men, women, and children waiting to disembark from our plane. Most were likely returning home on this holiday weekend or arriving to visit family and friends. I wondered how many of them remembered or thought about the nuclear annihilation of this city 73 years ago — within, that is, their own lifetimes or those of their parents or grandparents.

      From the airport, I took a bus along the jagged coast through small mountain villages toward Nagasaki, entering the city from the north on a route used by rescue and relief workers on August 9, 1945, and by bewildered family members racing into the smoldering city to search for their loved ones. For months after the bombing, no public transportation could penetrate the ruins of this northern part of the city. My bus, on the other hand, moved seamlessly into a metropolis that showed no sign of its obliteration three-quarters of a century ago.

      Much of Nagasaki and the world have, of course, moved on from that terrible morning when a five-ton plutonium bomb plunged at 614 miles per hour toward the city of 240,000 people. Forty-three seconds later, it detonated a third of a mile above Nagasaki’s Urakami Valley. A super-brilliant blue-white flash lit the sky, followed by a thunderous explosion equal to the power of 21,000 tons of TNT. The entire city convulsed. Within hours it was engulfed in flames.

  • Environment/Energy/Wildlife/Nature

    • “I’m Sure Dinosaurs Thought They Had Time, Too’: Over 12,000 Students Strike in Brussels Demanding Bold Climate Action

      An estimated 12,500 students walked out of their classrooms in Brussels, Belgium on Thursday to join the country’s second youth-led climate march in the past week, demanding that government leaders from across Europe take bold action to help stem the global climate crisis.

      Carrying signs reading “Act now before it’s too late,” “The planet needs you to give a damn,” and “I’m sure the dinosaurs thought they had time, too,” young people at the Marche Pour le Climat chanted, “We want change!” as they marched through the city in the rain.

    • Public Takeover of PG&E: A Radically Common-Sense Proposal

      California’s large investor-owned utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), announced it would be filing for bankruptcy by the end of the month after being faced with $30 billion in damages related to a series of fires over the past two years, including last fall’s deadly Camp Fire, which was allegedly sparked by the utility’s old, faulty transmission lines.

      That fire killed 86 people, destroyed 14,000 homes in the town of Paradise, and stands as the deadliest and most destructive fire in the state’s history.

      PG&E’s bankruptcy forces a critical choice for new California Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state leaders. They could opt to bail out PG&E, or break up the gargantuan company into presumably more manageable pieces.

      Or they could do the right thing and take the utility into democratic, public ownership.

      A public takeover is not outlandish, but rather, is a common-sense proposal for the future of Californians. With the company’s value dropping precipitously, this is a key moment for the state to step in, take over, and design a utility system that centers affordability, reliability, resiliency and leadership on climate change. Public ownership could also help secure the priorities that bankruptcy puts up in the air — such as pensions, union contracts and renewable energy investments — that the for-profit utility might not value saving as much as it would CEO bonuses.

    • Could a Green New Deal Save Civilization?

      The public champions of the Green New Deal (GND) in the U.S. include Democratic progressive representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Deb Haaland, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Antonio Delgado. The idea is also supported by writer-activists Naomi Klein and Van Jones; by the Green Parties in the US and Europe; and by the Sierra Club, 350.org, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the Climate Mobilization. The proposals currently circulating in Washington aim to provide 100 percent renewable energy in 10 to 20 years while supporting job retraining and aiding communities impacted by climate change. Some proposals also include a carbon tax (often with a fee-and-dividend structure that would rebate funds to low-income people so they could afford more costly energy services), incentives for green investment, public banks, measures to re-regulate the financial system, and the first steps toward a global Marshall Plan.

    • ‘Step Up or Step Aside’: Youth Climate Leaders Occupy Schumer’s Office to Demand Support for Green New Deal

      Keeping up the pressure on the Democratic leadership to embrace bold and popular solutions that are aligned with the science, youth climate leaders on Thursday occupied the D.C. office of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y) to demand that he either show true leadership by supporting a Green New Deal or “step aside.”

      “Real climate leadership means a commitment to bold climate action and a just transition. It means a Green New Deal,” a 16-year-old New Yorker named Jordan declared during Thursday’s demonstration, which comes just weeks after young climate campaigners demonstrated at the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

    • World’s coffee under threat, say experts

      The first full assessment of risks to the world’s coffee plants shows that 60% of 124 known species are on the edge of extinction.

    • ‘A Disgrace’: Bernie Sanders Takes Trump EPA Pick to Task for Claiming Climate Change Not ‘Greatest Crisis’ Facing Planet

      When Sanders asked Wheeler if he believes climate change is a “global crisis” that requires “unprecedented” policy changes, the EPA nominee responded that the warming planet is an “issue” but repeatedly refused to call it a “crisis.”

      “I believe that climate change is a global issue that must be addressed globally,” Wheeler said. “I would not call it the greatest crisis, no sir.”

      According to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world must cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 by to avert global catastrophe.

      “The person Donald Trump has nominated to lead the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t believe climate change is a “crisis,” Sanders wrote on Twitter following Wednesday’s hearing. “That is not only a disgrace, it is incredibly dangerous to the future of our planet.”

    • As Planet Heats Further, Even Davos Elite Warns Humanity Is ‘Sleepwalking Into Catastrophe’

      While WEF has made a habit of recognizing the threat posed by the human-made climate crisis in its Global Risks reports—for which it has garnered some praise—author and activist Naomi Klein was quick to challenge the narrative presented in the latest edition (pdf), pointing out that many of the polices pushed by the very people invited to the exclusive event have driven the global crisis.

      “Sleepwalking? Nah. The policies of global deregulation, privatization, unending consumption, and growth-worship that you advanced so aggressively in order to construct the Davos Class marched us here,” she tweeted. “Pretty sure your eyes were wide open.”

    • In Hoax Letter Calling Out Climate Inaction, Pranksters Urge Asset Manager Behemoth to Ditch ‘Zombie Funds of the Apocalypse’

      Because “generating sustainable returns into the future requires that we have a future,” the head of the world’s biggest money manager, BlackRock, sent a letter Wednesday to investors saying it would start to consider as “sin stock” companies that fail to align their business models with the goals of the Paris climate accord.

      Or so a group of climate-minded activists would have you believe.

      The pledge to better address the climate crisis was not actually made by BlackRock chairman and CEO Larry Fink but by activists who say in their hoax letter that such a move would not only be economically wise but would help save the only planet we have.

      “Everything called for in our fake letter are steps BlackRock could take while still remaining model capitalists,” said fake letter co-author Jeff Walburn of the Yes Men—activists whose previous targets have included the DNC, Dow Chemical, and Pfizer. “These slightly less extinction-oriented moves would make more money for investors and ensure their customers have a stable economy to profit from down the line. This is hardly a radical push; but it’s a push we need, for the sake of humanity’s survival and, yes, its asset owners.”

      In the fake letter, sent to multiple news outlets—duping at least one—and posted to a website made to look like the real BlackRock site, Fink supposedly declares “that the biggest contributor to uncertainty is also the greatest threat to the long-term stability of our economy and our investors’ assets: climate change. Companies must address climate risk factors or fail in their fiduciary duty.”

      “We spent much of 2018 mapping near-term climate risks that will affect municipal bonds and real estate, and we’re going to scale that methodology across all of our investments,” it states.

    • That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant

      A burgeoning save-the-climate effort called the Green New Deal, explains Vox’s David Roberts, “has thrust climate change into the national conversation, put House Democrats on notice, and created an intense and escalating bandwagon effect. … everyone involved in green politics is talking about the GND. … But WTF is it?”

      Roberts goes on to give a good summary, but no one can fully answer that question until someone puts a complete plan down on paper. We do know that the vision as it’s being described by its fans (and it seems to have nothing but fans in the climate movement) explicitly draws its inspiration from the New Deal that the Roosevelt Administration launched eighty-four years ago in an effort to end the Great Depression.

      [...]

      The Green New Dealers nevertheless are holding out the promise of prosperity and sustainability through growth. Without asking where the energy to fuel that growth will come from, they predict that with heavy investment in renewable infrastructure, the U.S. economy will expand rapidly so that lower-income households can look forward to more, better jobs and rising incomes.

      Unlike the World War II stimulus, this new green stimulus will not be accompanied by any planned allocation of resources or limits on production and consumption in the private sector. But that is what’s needed. Given the necessity for an immediate, steep decline in greenhouse emissions and material throughput, such planning and limits are needed even more now than they were during World War II.

    • Uniting for a Green New Deal

      Support is growing in the United States for a Green New Deal. Though there are competing visions for what that looks like, essentially, a Green New Deal includes a rapid transition to a clean energy economy, a jobs program and a stronger social safety net.

      We need a Green New Deal for many reasons, most obviously the climate crisis and growing economic insecurity. Each new climate report describes the severe consequences of climate change with increasing alarm and the window of opportunity for action is closing. At the same time, wealth inequality is also growing. Paul Bucheit writes that more than half of the population in the United States is suffering from poverty.

      The Green New Deal provides an opportunity for transformational changes, not just reform, but changes that fundamentally solve the crises we face. This is the time to be pushing for a Green New Deal at all levels, in our towns and cities, states and nationally.

    • More vegetables, less meat for all our sakes

      An international panel of health scientists and climate researchers has prescribed a new diet for the planet: more vegetables, less meat, fresh fruit, wholegrains and pulses, give up sugar, waste less and keep counting the calories.

      And if 200 nations accept the diagnosis and follow doctor’s orders, tomorrow’s farmers may be able to feed 10 billion people comfortably by 2050, help contain climate change, and prevent 11 million premature deaths per year.

      A commission sponsored by one of the oldest and most distinguished medical journals in the world today provides what it calls the first scientific targets for a healthy diet, from a sustainable food production system, that operates within what its authors term “planetary boundaries.”

      The commission is the result of three years’ consultation by 37 experts from 16 countries, among them experts in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, economics and political governance.

    • The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Three

      The Green Party should seek, within the policy initiatives of the Green New Deal, to strengthen worker rights. As Whitney Webb writes in Corporations See a Different Kind of “Green” in Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal,” the Democratic Green New Deal (hereafter DGND) actually contains within its policy proposals further neoliberal assaults on worker rights and austerity measures, both of which have fostered the growth of white nationalism historically in American politics.

      Along with Improved Single Payer Medicare for All, the Green Party states they would also pass the Employee Free Choice Act, otherwise known as “card check,” which makes union organization easier. They should furthermore repeal the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 while amending the 1926 Railway Labor Act so to return the right to strike to railway and airline workers. The Green Party goal is to guarantee a living wage job for every American willing and able to work. To do this, the national party would establish a full employment program that will create 25 million jobs by implementing a nationally funded, locally controlled employment initiative. This would also include measures to create fair trade treaties and strengthen workplace safety laws. Job training would be in combination with a guaranteed tuition-free public college education and granting of student debt forgiveness. They would reform tax codes and laws to assure fair taxation, distributed in proportion to one’s ability to pay. And finally, we would provide all Americans with decent, accessible, affordable, and sustainable housing and democratically run, publicly owned, not-for-profit utilities

      Another distinction is the role of anti-imperialism within the coordinates of the Green New Deal. The DGND makes no reference to de-linking the American dollar’s value from the Saudi Arabian oil barrel’s price on the international exchange market. Unless a serious effort is made to disconnect the link between the dollar and Saudi oil, otherwise stated as eliminating the petrodollar, it is fundamentally against the best interests of the American government to engage in any sort of project that would reduce the worldwide value of Saudi oil. American capitalism since the termination of the Bretton Woods system during the Nixon administration has been one that only can be maintained by the perpetuation of a fossil fuels-based economic system. Sustainable energy policy from Democratic Party that does not take on this issue will not take on what actually drives climate change.

      Furthermore, owing to the precarious nature of the House of Saud’s grip on that country’s government, American foreign policy towards Saudi Arabia has always been extremely militarist and imperialist. From the start of the Cold War, when Saudi Arabia and Israel were positioned in the region as two poles that would oppose secular Arab nationalism, to contemporary times, with the ongoing genocidal war on Yemen and the jingoistic bipartisan saber-rattling towards Iran, the House of Saud has exchanged the security of American oil supplies for allowance of the most reactionary type of absolute monarchism on earth. Saudi Wahhabism has been a fundamentalist current promoting anti-Black racism, misogyny, trans/homo/bi-phobia, and feudal judicial practices across the Islamic world. The Saudis have been a key player in American imperial policy across Asia and Africa.

    • In Facing Mass Extinction, We Don’t Need Hope. We Need to Grieve.

      In 2015, my best friend, Duane French, came down with pneumonia and was taken to the hospital. Pneumonia on its own is bad enough, but for someone who has been quadriplegic for more than forty years, it is also life threatening. I met Duane when I first moved to Alaska in 1996, then I became his personal assistant. Duane is now one of the oldest living quadriplegics on the planet and he has always been one of my heroes. He broke his neck in a diving accident when he was just fourteen and spent his adolescence in a rehabilitation hospital with mangled Vietnam veterans returning from the war. Duane decided not to allow something like a broken neck and confinement to an electric wheelchair stop him from working to help pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. Since then, he has run more than one state government division that assists people with disabilities.

      Struggling to breathe, Duane was moved to the ICU shortly after being admitted to the hospital. His partner, Kelly, his personal assistant Sakhum, and I took twelve-hour shifts by his bed. Three weeks went by as one antibiotic after another failed. Duane’s heart rate was over one hundred beats per minute for weeks on end. He was barely eating, and he began spending more and more time wearing a breathing mask.

      Knowing the odds were heavily stacked against him, I sat at his bedside and gave him my full attention. When he slept, I watched his chest rising and falling, savoring the fact that he was still alive. When it was my turn to rest, I would go to bed in Kelly and Duane’s guest bedroom back at their home, knowing that Duane was still alive. But he continued to decline and, as he did, every moment with him was an ever more precious gift. It was easier for me to sit by his bed than anywhere else on Earth. My heart was breaking; yet I did not want to miss one single second of Duane’s life. I had no idea if he would survive, and that became less relevant as each moment I had with him became increasingly inestimable.

      Duane’s condition grew worse. There appeared to be nothing left to do. The nurse administered morphine to calm his struggles to breathe.

    • Tax the Rich, Fight the Climate Crisis

      Following the 2018 midterm elections, national media missed one piece of very good news. By a margin of almost two-to-one, tens of thousands of Portland, Oregon, voters approved an imaginative clean energy initiative that offers a model for the rest of the country — at the ballot box, but also in our classrooms.

      Work on Portland’s Clean Energy Fund began in February of 2016 in a church basement when representatives of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), Verde (a community-based environmental organization), the Coalition of Communities of Color, the NAACP, and 350PDX (the local affiliate of 350.org) met to discuss how work to fight climate change could simultaneously address racial and economic justice and create living wage jobs. The initiative was the first ballot measure in Oregon’s history launched and led by people of color. And it’s what we need a lot more of: conversations, activism (including curriculum) that lead people to recognize that the “just transition” away from fossil fuels can also be a move toward a society that is cleaner, more equal, and more democratic.

      The Clean Energy Fund will be supported by a tax — technically, a surcharge — of 1 percent on corporations with gross retail receipts nationally of $1 billion and at least $500,000 in Portland. Food, medicine, and healthcare are exempt. A 1 percent tax on the 1 percent. Corporations affected include big retailers like Walmart, Target, J. C. Penney, and Best Buy, but also the media behemoth Comcast, which dominates Portland’s cable market. Organizers estimate that the tax will raise $30 million a year. The money will go to a fund dedicated to clean energy projects — renewable energy and energy efficiency — targeted explicitly to benefit low-income communities and communities of color. The fund will also support regenerative agriculture and green infrastructure projects aimed at greenhouse gas sequestration and sustainable local food production.

      An important component of the new initiative will be creating clean energy jobs that “prioritize skills training, and workforce development for economically disadvantaged and traditionally underemployed workers, including communities of color, women, persons with disabilities, and the chronically underemployed.” Workers will be paid more than $20 an hour, at least 180 percent of minimum wage.

  • Finance

    • The world is swimming in $244 trillion of debt

      Put another way, global debt is now more than three times the size of the world economy. The level of debt around the world has topped 318% of global gross domestic product, just below the all-time high of 320% in mid-2016. These elevated levels come despite a “cyclical pickup in global growth” over the last two years, the IIF said.

    • After Selling Kidney To Buy iPhone, Chinese Man Bedridden With Organ Failure

      The man suffered renal failure in his second kidney after having one removed. It is said that it was due to the unsanitary conditions where the surgery took place.

    • A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality

      January 15th marked what would’ve been Dr. Martin Luther King’s 90th birthday.
      Most known for his famous “I Have Dream Speech,” King envisioned a future in which deep racial inequalities — including deep economic inequality — was eradicated. He worked tirelessly towards that mission.
      Over 50 years after his assassination, sensational media stories have focused heavily on the black unemployment rate, which has reached historic lows.
      President Trump was quick to claim credit for this improvement last year, tweeting: “Somebody please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies, Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!” (The rapper had recently criticized the president for a racist statement about African countries.)

    • Turkish Court Jails Journalist For Telling The Truth About A Politician’s Offshore Tax Shelter

      Truth is no defense against allegations of defamation — not in Turkey where criminal defamation law is just one of the government’s many weapons deployed against critics. Journalist Pelin Ünker has been sentenced to more than a year in jail by a Turkish court for publishing undeniable facts.

    • Disappointing photos show what living in San Francisco on a tech salary really looks like

      In the nation’s most competitive real-estate market, it can be next to impossible to find affordable living accommodations. The housing crisis has left thousands struggling and has done nothing to help the city’s homelessness epidemic.

      It costs $3,360 on average for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. That means when the average starting tech salary of $91,738 is taken into account, some techies are shelling out a good portion of their paycheck solely on rent.

    • Income Share Agreements: A Student Debt Promise Falling Short Of Reality – Roosevelt Institute

      With outstanding student debt at $1.5 trillion, policymakers and education providers are looking for ways to make college more affordable. Though many argue for enhanced public investment to reduce tuition, others are turning to debt alternatives like income share agreements (ISAs). Through these contracts, universities (often with funding from private investors) contribute to a student’s education in exchange for a cut of their future income over a set number of years. Recently, journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin advocated for ISAs in The New York Times, calling one ISA-funded education program a “radically new approach to funding education” that could work for students, “not just for schools and bill collectors.” However, our forthcoming research indicates that the ISAs that are emerging throughout the country may not match up with their promise and instead put students at risk.

      To many, ISAs are a potential silver bullet for the student debt crisis. The appeal is that ISAs would allow students to reduce their risk compared to loans. Loans stick students (and often, their families) with all of the risk if their education doesn’t pay off. Through ISAs, funders only make money if the students do, and students will never owe more than their earnings can support. In reality, however, funders can shape ISAs to quietly push much of the risk back onto students by crafting contracts that work to their advantage, avoiding consumer protections laws and aggressively marketing the alleged advantages of ISAs.

      The program touted by Sorkin’s recent column, Lambda School, offers little public information about the terms of its ISAs, so it is difficult to assess its impact on consumers. Instead, we looked at Purdue University’s “Back a Boiler” program — perhaps the most prominent and acclaimed ISA programs in the United States. Back a Boiler illustrates how ISAs are not a solution to the high cost of higher education but rather another avenue for students to become trapped in debt. As a non-profit university with a vested interest in students’ success, Purdue’s ISA has been heralded as a model both for other universities and for legislative proposals, but our research uncovers major problems with Back a Boiler.

      First, Purdue’s program includes less favorable terms for students in less profitable majors. In other words, if a student’s major increases the risk that the funder won’t recoup their investment — e.g., perhaps a student is more likely to become a teacher than an investment banker — then the ISA contract is adjusted accordingly. These students owe a greater percentage of their income for a longer period of time than peers in other, “more profitable” majors. Instead of sharing the risk of lower earnings, Purdue bakes that risk into the terms.

    • Machiavellianism and Brexit

      A Cabinet Office source tells me today No. 10 is considering agreeing a second referendum with three choices: No Deal Brexit, May’s Deal or No Brexit. It would be by alternative vote, ie you rate your preferences 1, 2. The thinking is that the first round might go No Deal 23, May’s Deal 37, No Brexit 40. The second round would then go May’s Deal 60, No Brexit 40.

      They claim there is opinion poll evidence to support this. But I see a flaw. It is predicated on the current situation, where a lot of Remainers are prepared to support Brexit, to respect the referendum result. But surely a second referendum would release that psychological constraint and the overwhelming majority of Remainers would seize the opportunity to try and ditch Brexit?

      The advantage of the ploy from May’s viewpoint is that it presents her “deal” as the only alternative to No Deal or No Brexit, and in an AV vote the compromise position is always boosted. What is more it keeps the numerous other options for deals outwith her red lines – eg EFTA, Single Market, Customs Union, EEA – all off the ballot paper. This limited choice referendum thus appeals to May as “out-maneuvering” the opposition parties. The idea is to sucker them in to talk on a second referendum, then produce this slanted one.

    • Outsourced and Forgotten: No Relief for Federal Contract Workers

      As the government shutdown drags on, 800,000 federal workers continue to be furloughed or are working without pay. Even if they receive back pay at the end of the shutdown, it will be a case of “too little, too late”: Delayed pay cannot redress lost housing, late payment fees on bills or credit cards, unpaid child care bills, or the daily struggles of living paycheck to paycheck when those checks are delayed indefinitely.

      But large numbers of people who do the work of the federal government are not directly employed by the federal government; they do work that the government has outsourced to private companies. Many of these workers may end up receiving no back pay at all.

      These are the women and men who staff customer service lines, process payments, maintain properties, serve meals and provide tech support through government contracts with private employers. The number of affected workers is literally impossible to pinpoint, even for the government agencies signing the contracts. For every direct federal worker, we hire almost two more to execute such contracts, for a total of more than 3.7 million contracted employees, according to 2015 research estimates. Untold thousands of these employees have been locked out of work for temporarily shuttered agencies like the Departments of Transportation (with its $9.1 billion in contracts), Treasury ($13.9 billion in contracts) and Agriculture ($16.9 billion).

  • AstroTurf/Lobbying/Politics

    • ‘Putin’s chef’ wanted to buy St. Petersburg’s leading investigative news outlet, but the owner of ‘Maxim’ magazine beat him to it

      On Friday, January 11, media magnate Viktor Shkulev chaired the morning planning meeting at Fontanka’s newsroom in St. Petersburg, introducing himself as the outlet’s new owner. A source on Fontanka’s editorial staff told Meduza that Shkulev brought a new logo and a new subheader for the website, changing “Petersburg Internet Newspaper” to “St. Petersburg Online.” According to Meduza’s source, Shkulev said Fontanka would “need to remain equidistant from all political forces,” while making an extra effort to attract male readers (“the beast with the prized fur”) beloved by advertisers.

      Viktor Shkulev is the president of the Hearst Shkulev Publishing company, which publishes the Russian-language edition of Maxim, the country’s most popular men’s magazine, as well as the women’s publications Elle, Marie Claire, and Psychologies. The total audience for the company’s publications was 18.2 million people in 2016. Shkulev, however, isn’t just in the magazine business: since 2012, he’s been developing a series of city websites and has bought shares of regional media companies. In the past few years, he’s acquired online-publications in Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Perm, Novosibirsk, Sochi, and Novokuznetsk, amassing an empire that reaches 19 million people.

    • DNC Rules Chair: How the 2020 Caucuses Could Change

      James Roosevelt III has been the co-chair of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee since 1995. In late December, the DNC issued its 2020 Delegate Selection Rules, which require states holding presidential caucuses, like Iowa and Nevada, to offer same-day registration and a way to participate without being present—either by mail or online. I reached out to Roosevelt about modernizing the caucus process and the challenges posed, starting with 2020’s first event in Iowa.

    • ‘Where’s Mitch?’: Ocasio-Cortez and Fellow Democrats Search High and Low to Demand McConnell Hold Vote to End Shutdown

      With the economic pain and dire safety risks caused by the record-long government shutdown becoming clearer by the day, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and a group of her fellow freshman House Democrats marched to the Senate building on Wednesday to hand-deliver a letter demanding that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) immediately hold a vote to reopen the government.

      After searching for and failing to find McConnell in the Republican cloakroom, his office, or on the Senate floor, the Democrats left copies of their letter on McConnell’s desk and in his personal office.

    • GOP Congressmen Meet With Holocaust-Denying Troll Chuck Johnson

      Johnson, a former Breitbart reporter, has denied the magnitude of the Holocaust, expressing doubt that gas chambers were real and questioning whether six million Jews were really killed—a figure that has been well-documented by scholars and historians. He also ran crowdfunding efforts for white supremacist causes, including the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer.

      [...]

      Despite his unsavory past, Johnson has had access to other members of Congress before. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) invited Johnson to the 2018 State of the Union address, and once arranged a meeting between then-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

    • Trump Is Over If You Want It

      Hey peeps, good news! The tinpot tyrant resigned by writing a note on a napkin in the Oval Office! He was felled by a women-led, multi-racial grassroots resistance targeting not just Trump but those who enabled him, turning the tide with an array of actions from sticky “sippy-cup sit-ins” of lawmakers’ offices by mothers with young children to a “wall of floof” created by young women in multi-layered quinceañera gowns to blockade government buildings. Outsmarted and out-classed, Trump fled to Yalta. Meanwhile, a grim Mike Pence was sworn in for a “clipped-duck” term, world leaders breathed sighs of relief, and progressives celebrated 64 groundbreaking bills, including Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, free college tuition and election reform. Amidst the stunning turnaround – #byebye45 – major news outlets took a remorseful look back at Trump’s rise to power and offered a collective mea culpa: “Our bad.”

      Across D.C. on Wednesday, the news of Trump’s demise – “UNPRESIDENTED” – was trumpeted on the front page of the Washington Post. Alas, it was in fact a fake Post created by activist collective The Yes Men, along with authors Onnesha Roychoudhuri and L.A. Kauffman.

    • Trump’s Flailing will get More Desperate and More Dangerous

      Since the striking victories of Democrats up and down the ballot in 2018, President Donald Trump has been flailing more and more wildly.

      He’s setting new records for the length of the government shutdown, watched his defense secretary resign after suddenly announcing the withdrawal of troops from Syria, forced his attorney general to resign, found it difficult to find a permanent replacement for his departing chief of staff, and tweeted that he is “all alone in the White House.”

      Quietly, the unrelenting investigation of Robert Mueller becomes ever more ominous. Now the new Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives will probe the corruption of this most corrupt administration, from Trump’s business dealings to the corporate lobbyists who are running entire departments in the interests of their once and future employers.

      While Trump issues insult after insult against opponents — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — he reveals just how desperate he is.

      Essentially, Trump now has three choices. He can stay in office and be impeached. The evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors is building each day, from trampling election laws by payoffs to keep his mistresses quiet to blatant self-enrichment that surely offends the Constitution’s ban on emoluments, to open and secret efforts to obstruct justice.

      Democrats will no doubt wait for special prosecutor Mueller to issue his report. They will wait to see if Republicans, alarmed by their sinking poll numbers, begin to separate themselves from Trump. Sen. Mitt Romney’s blast at Trump may be an early warning of what’s likely to come.

    • Trump vs the Constitution: Why He Cannot Invoke the Emergencies Act to Build a Wall

      The more President Trump changes his mind about declaring a national emergency to build his wall the less likely it is that he has the authority to do it. But even if he had declared a national emergency immediately, it is unlikely the Constitution or congressional statute allows him to do it. That is perhaps why Trump has not invoke emergency powers to build the wall–basic principles of American law suggest he lacks the authority to do it.

      The US Constitution is a power conferring document. There are no extra-constitutional powers. Before the president or any branch of the national government does something it needs to trace authority back to the explicit text of the Constitution or the power must be necessarily implied. In the case of the president, his authority comes from Article II of the Constitution, or he may be delegated some additional authority to him from Congress via Article I.

      Under Article II section 1, executive power is vested in the president. Under Article II, section 3, the president shall take care that the laws are faithfully executed. Through either of these clauses the president can issue an executive order and declare a national emergency, but what does that really mean? Does it mean presidents can ignore existing law or do whatever they want for whatever reason? Doubtful. President’s cannot manufacture an emergency and then invoke undefined powers to ignore the law or the Constitution; this idea violates the very idea of rule of law and the concept of American constitutionalism.

    • Referendum 2020: A Green New Deal vs. Racist, Classist Climate Genocide

      Perverse as it may seem, I as a climate justice activist am extremely glad the corrupt corporate, militarist Democratic Party leadership has repeatedly expressed its contempt for the Sunrise Movement’s much-needed, potentially game-changing call for a Green New Deal. Three recent, egregious instances of that contempt are 1) Chuck Schumer’s criminally insane promotion of Trump-supporting fossil fuel puppet Joe Manchin to be lead Democrat on a powerful Senate energy committee, 2) Nancy Pelosi’s predictable castration of Sunrise’s hoped-for committee to legislate a Green New Deal, and 3) Pelosi’s equally predictable construction of an insurmountable barricade to a Green New Deal by her ardent embrace of a pay-go budget provision, recently adopted by House Democrats.

      What makes me so glad is that Democrats’ corrupt Schumer-Pelosi leadership has taken no time whatsoever to show its cards: it clearly seeks to kill a Green New Deal. Or, at minimum, to weaken it beyond recognition, so the leadership game of serving Wall Street and Silicon Valley, the military-industrial-surveillance complex, and the Israel lobby can continue unimpeded. Absolutely clueless that the youth climate movement is different and won’t be bought off with lip service, Democrats’ leadership has already provoked the Sunrise Movement to strengthen its resolve.

      Deeply heartened by Sunrise’s refusal to be taken lightly, I see clear hope that the movement is willing to get radical and use “nuclear” political weapons against the adamantine anti-climate obstinacy of the Democratic leadership. As a veteran activist strategist, I have one such “can’t miss” weapon to propose: making the 2020 election a referendum between Democrats’ Green New Deal and Republicans’ racist, classist climate genocide. If taken up by a popular presidential hopeful like Bernie Sanders, or by a climate-obsessed one like Washington governor Jay Inslee, this stark referendum could sound the well-deserved death knell for today’s beyond-criminal Republican Party. And spell endless, politically suicidal woe for any corporate Democrat who dares oppose it.

    • Just Another Brick in the Wall of Lies

      It’s time to bring back the original Nightline. For those of you too young to remember, Nightlinewas born almost 40 years ago during the “Iranian Hostage Crisis.” Each nightly broadcast began with the words “The Iran Crisis: America Held Hostage” that would eventually be followed by the numbers of days that had elapsed since their seizure. This continued for 444 days. After the release of the hostages, the program began to devote more of its thirty minutes to probing in depth a single political or social issue. Over the years, having to compete with talk-over-shouting-matches-on-demand cable and the click-bait internet, the once venerable news program has since degenerated into little more than an infomercial for the exploits of Lindsay Lohan and R. Kelly, providing the latest celebrity gossip, politically safe human-interest stories, and the 411 on films and TV shows produced by Disney, its parent company.

      The revival of Nightline – and hopefully corporate tele journalistic due diligence – would be motivated by another national crisis: the fact that as of January 13th, for the last 723 days, America has been taken hostage by homegrown radical extremists, although the true dimensions of this siege did not become clear until their righteous leader decided to shut down the government and hold Americans ransom to pay for his Wall. Of course, Trump being Trump, the magnitude of his hostage crisis far exceeds the 52 Americans seized by Iran, as it includes some 800,000 federal workers and their families and promises to impact the lives of millions more the longer it continues.

      Yet for all its current chest beating about the truth and protestations against being labeled fake news, the corporate mainstream media has not learned the lessons of its past. Had it done so, it would not have provided Trump with prime-time national coverage to bamboozle the nation with more drivel about his Great Wall. Recall that these self-avowed defenders of democracy and Diogenesian seekers of truth and honesty are the same networks that in 2014 refused to provide President Obama the airtime to promote his own immigration plan because, according to a “network insider” cited by the Washington Post (November 21, 2014), they thought it was “overtly political,” as if, some four years later, Trump’s was any less so (and by almost any measure far more so). Then again, their denial may have been motivated by other less high-minded considerations: As the Post’s Jaime Fuller reported, November also “happens to be ‘sweeps’ month, when programming tries and encourage more viewers to turn in by promising more exciting content. Presidential sweeps don’t always ensure the exciting cliffhangers and plot twists that networks are looking for.” Did I mention that Diogenes was a Cynic?

      Apparently, these networks, still under the sway of the former reality TV star, who as presidential candidate and President boosted their sagging ratings, believe his address would have the same impact, albeit it turns out the ratings were less than stellar, with the Democratic rebuttal drawing slightly more viewers. Despite the fact that Trump is, as the New York Times’s Roger Cohen recently dubbed him, the “Michelangelo of bullshit artists” (a more fitting description, I think, would be the Dali of deception, since his masterworks dabble in surrealistic distortions of reality), the media, conflicted patron of the arts that it is, continues to provide him its canvas free of charge.

    • White House Denounces Rep. Steve King’s Racist Remarks

      Comments by Republican Rep. Steve King about white supremacy are “abhorrent,” the White House said Wednesday as bipartisan condemnation of King continued.

      White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders praised a move by House Republicans to strip the nine-term Iowa lawmaker of his committee assignments.

      King told The New York Times last week that, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”

    • Giuliani Claims ‘I Never Said There Was No Collusion’ Between Trump Campaign and Russia (Yes, He Did)

      Giuliani previously garnered attention last summer, when he said during interviews that he’s not even convinced collusion with a foreign government that is trying to influence a U.S. presidential election is actually a crime.

      Trump, for his part, has called Mueller’s probe a “witch hunt.” The president has also tweeted: “Russian Collusion with the Trump Campaign, one of the most successful in history, is a TOTAL HOAX” and “The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”

      Giuliani’s interview comes after a court filing revealed last week that Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort gave 2016 presidential campaign polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian political consultant who was previously an interpreter for his country’s military and is said to have ties to its intelligence services.

      The interview also comes amid speculation about when Mueller’s report will finally arrive and who will get to see it. Trump’s legal team reportedly may try to block it from being released to Congress and the public, but Giuliani denied that to Cuomo on Wednesday, claiming the president’s lawyers just want the opportunity to see it first and respond.

    • Facebook deletes hundreds of fake groups created by staff at Kremlin media outlet

      On January 17, the head of Facebook’s Cybersecurity Policy announced the removal of 364 pages and accounts that originated in Russia and operated in the Baltics, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Europe. According to Facebook, the administrators and account owners represented themselves as independent news pages and general-interest pages, but were really “linked to employees” of the Russian media agency Sputnik, frequently posting about topics like “anti-NATO sentiment, protest movements, and corruption.”

      Apparently, seven of the targeted Facebook pages belonged to Sputnik’s foreign newsrooms. In a public statement on Thursday, the Russian state media agency said Facebook’s decision is “unequivocally political censorship.”

    • In First Floor Speech, Ocasio-Cortez Condemns Trump Shutdown as ‘Erosion of American Democracy’

      “It is actually not about a wall, it is not about the border, and it is certainly not about the well-being of everyday Americans,” Ocasio-Cortez said of the shutdown, which is now in its fourth week with no end in sight. “The truth is, this shutdown is about the erosion of American democracy and the subversion of our most basic governmental norms.”

      “It is not normal to shut down the government when we don’t get what we want. It is not normal for public servants to run away and hide from the public that they serve,” the New York congresswoman declared, referencing her unsuccessful search for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in the Senate building on Wednesday. “And it is certainly not normal to starve the people we serve for a proposal that is wildly unpopular among the American people.”

    • Mitch McConnell Begins to Feel the Heat for Government Shutdown at Home

      Federal workers’ protests outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office in Lexington, Ky. are raising questions about how long the Republican leader can continue his support of President Trump in the face of the longest government shutdown in US history.

      Government workers from the Federal Medical Center, US Penitentiary in Lexington and the Federal Correctional Institution of Manchester assembled outside McConnell’s office this week to protest the shutdown, according to local CBS affiliate WKYT. The protesters made it clear that their objective was for McConnell, and Congress overall, to vote to re-open the government.

      “They don’t even know if they can make it to work, yet they’re required to work,” Jerry Jackson Jr, a union president in Big Sandy, told the network.

      “What do we pay now? Do we pay the mortgage, do we save gas money to get to work, what do we do? Do we buy the groceries? So now the times are starting to get tough,” Stephen Creech, a union president in Manchester, also observed.

  • Censorship/Free Speech

    • YouTube updates policies to explicitly ban dangerous pranks, challenges

      Pranks and challenges have always been popular on YouTube, but now the Google-owned company has set stricter guidelines for such content. A new YouTube support page details the company’s updated policy surrounding “harmful and dangerous” content to explicitly ban pranks and challenges that cause immediate or lasting physical or emotional harm.

    • Russia’s Constitutional Court decides to ease limits on foreign involvement in the media — a bit

      Russia’s Constitutional Court issued a decision today regarding Article 19.1, a law that governs mass media. The law prohibits foreigners from founding or controlling media outlets in Russia, but the Court ruled that it requires correction. The new ruling indicates that the prohibition itself is just “because that sort of influence might threaten the security of state information,” but the Court also decided to clarify what rights foreigners do have if they own shares in Russian media companies.

  • Privacy/Surveillance

    • Integrating Network-Layer Privacy Protections With Cryptocurrencies

      Some of the emerging methods for deanonymizing users of cryptocurrencies stem from mapping network traffic to unveil IP addresses and making connections between identities. Privacy concerns around network-layer tracking by government surveillance programs and other avenues for unveiling identities across the Internet have led to several important developments to preserve privacy.

      The Tor Network and The Invisible Internet Project (I2P) are two of the leading overlay networks for users to protect their privacy over the public medium of the Internet. Other solutions include Mixnets, which are routing protocols using chained proxy servers to mix input messages.

    • 2019: The Push For Bad Faith, Loophole-Filled Privacy Legislation Begins

      We’ve talked at length about how the telecom industry has spent the last few years pushing phony, loophole-filled net neutrality legislation.

      Why would the telecom sector do that? They know their successful lobbying assault on net neutrality rules rests on shaky ground. Next month’s court battle could easily reverse the FCC repeal, highlighting how the agency engaged in all manner of dubious behavior to kowtow to the telecom sector. They also know that thanks to the shifting winds in Congress and rising public anger, there could soon be growing support for a net neutrality law. Therefore, they want to pass their own, shitty, loophole-filled law to pre-empt tougher, better, state or federal protections.

      The same thing is happening on the privacy front. Like the successful lobbyist attack on net neutrality, the cross-industry assault on the FCC’s fairly modest broadband privacy rules back in 2017 pissed off those who were actually paying attention to it. Especially because those rules could have helped mitigate the growing roster of location data scandals by giving consumers greater control over how their location data is collected and sold.

    • Most Facebook users don’t know that it records a list of their interests, new study finds

      Seventy-four percent of Facebook users are unaware that Facebook records a list of their interests for ad-targeting purposes, according to a new study from the Pew Institute.

    • Facebook Algorithms and Personal Data

      [...] But how well do Americans understand these algorithm-driven classification systems, and how much do they think their lives line up with what gets reported about them? As a window into this hard-to-study phenomenon, a new Pew Research Center survey asked a representative sample of users of the nation’s most popular social media platform, Facebook, to reflect on the data that had been collected about them. [...]

    • Most Users Still Don’t Know How Facebook Advertising Works

      In response to questions about its targeting practices, Facebook has said that anyone can use the platform’s ad preferences menu to see and control how Facebook has categorized them. But a new survey from Pew Research Center suggests that the vast majority of US users isn’t aware that Facebook tracks their interests and traits this way. When respondents found out, most said they were uncomfortable with the assumptions the social network had made.

  • Civil Rights/Policing

    • These Hungarian Students Are Fighting for Their Country’s Democracy

      One of the first things I learned, as an outsider who just came to Hungary this year, is that it is not just CEU that is under attack from Fidesz but all Hungarian universities and academic institutions. The Corvinus University of Economics is being privatized; the country’s textbook makers have all come under state control; the largest and best humanities university (called Eötvös Lorand University, or ELTE) in the country is being defunded; certain degrees (including my field, gender studies) have been banned; conferences on migration have been banned—and that is simply what has made it to press in the few Hungarian media outlets not controlled by strongmen of Orbán.

    • William Barr Is a Trojan Horse

      Compared to Brett Kavanaugh’s sullen, bombastic performance last September, this week’s Judiciary Committee hearing for William Barr, nominee for the post of attorney general, was almost a soporific affair. It was, in a way, a throwback to an age when nominees held in their rage and clotted grudges were not verbally vomited all over the conference table.

      Of course, nothing about the Barr hearing was humdrum because it took place within the context of the chaos presidency of Donald Trump. The stakes for this nomination — political, legal and constitutional — are as high as the tape measure can reach. At stake is the extent of presidential powers, the security of Robert Mueller’s ongoing collusion investigation and the eventual availability of his final report, the integrity of the office of the attorney general and the Justice Department at large, the care and feeding of the noxious carceral state, and freedom of the press.

      As far as surface performance goes, Barr comported himself as well as can be expected. No surprise there, as he has been through Senate confirmation hearings three times before, most notably when he was named to be George H.W. Bush’s attorney general at the ragged end of that administration. This was old hat for a veteran DC insider. The tableau of his family seated behind him – his librarian wife and three grown daughters, all lawyers, plus a grandson named Liam who ladled cuteness all over the proceedings – lent Barr an aura of stability, like some weathered old oak.

      Appearances are often deceiving, however, and beneath that respectable veneer lurked a man with strong ideas which would not sit well with a public that has spent two years enduring Trump’s tyranny of mayhem-enriched overreach. When you give your hand away at a poker table, it’s called a “tell.” Barr’s tell appeared on the occasions when he refused to give straight answers to serious questions.

      For most of the hearing, Barr gave very Republican answers to a wide variety of questions because he is very Republican, but did so quietly. The committee members by and large seemed to welcome this. Sen. Diane Feinstein’s line of questions on Tuesday essentially boiled down to asking him, “Do you promise to be awesome, please?” Barr said he would.

    • What We Learned From William Barr’s Confirmation Hearing

      Trump’s pick for attorney general signaled that his Justice Department will match the poor civil rights record of Jeff Sessions.

      On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned William Barr, President Trump’s nominee to be attorney general, on his views on the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference, the criminal justice system, and immigration. Senators also addressed other key issues — including privacy, marijuana, voting rights, abortion rights, and LGBTQ civil rights — in their questioning.

      While the ACLU does not take a position on nominations, we have raised concerns about his record, including his past work involving warrantless surveillance, mass incarceration, and civil liberties abuses.

    • State Duma refuses to resume cooperation with PACE, increasing chances that Russia could leave the Council of Europe

      Federal lawmakers in Russia say they are opposed to sending a delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for this year’s Winter Session in Strasbourg, rejecting an invitation from General Secretary Wojciech Sawicki.

      On January 17, at a plenary session of the State Duma, all four represented political parties endorsed an announcement refusing to resume cooperation with PACE until Russia’s voting rights are restored in the organization.

      According to the Duma’s statement, more than half the judges now working in the European Court of Human Rights were elected without the participation of a Russian PACE delegation, “calling into question the legitimacy of the ECHR’s rulings related to Russia.”

    • The FBI Says Its Photo Analysis Is Scientific Evidence. Scientists Disagree.

      At the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, a team of about a half-dozen technicians analyzes pictures down to their pixels, trying to determine if the faces, hands, clothes or cars of suspects match images collected by investigators from cameras at crime scenes.

      The unit specializes in visual evidence and facial identification, and its examiners can aid investigations by making images sharper, revealing key details in a crime or ruling out potential suspects.

      But the work of image examiners has never had a strong scientific foundation, and the FBI’s endorsement of the unit’s findings as trial evidence troubles many experts and raises anew questions about the role of the FBI Laboratory as a standard-setter in forensic science.

      FBI examiners have tied defendants to crime pictures in thousands of cases over the past half-century using unproven techniques, at times giving jurors baseless statistics to say the risk of error was vanishingly small. Much of the legal foundation for the unit’s work is rooted in a 22-year-old comparison of bluejeans. Studies on several photo comparison techniques, conducted over the last decade by the FBI and outside scientists, have found they are not reliable.

    • Our Pointless, Very American Culture of Shame

      Puritanism’s obsession with guilt and shame, Nathaniel Hawthorne believed, was America’s original sin. We haven’t made much progress since “The Scarlet Letter.”

      Do the crime do the time, goes the cliché. In the United States, when the time ends the shaming begins.

      It starts when you look for a job. At least 65% of Americans have a felony or misdemeanor criminal record that makes them ineligible to work for the more than 90% of companies who run background checks to weed out applicants with a record. As for the few ex-cons who slip through this electronic dragnet, they are required by shaming laws to tell prospective employers about their checkered past. (Some states have slightly liberalized the requirement with laws like New York’s “Ban the Box” law, which requires disclosure only at the job offer stage.)

      The only social benefit to convict-shaming is the shaming itself. “The irony is that employers’ attempts to safeguard the workplace are not only barring many people who pose little to no risk, but they also are compromising public safety. As studies have shown, providing individuals the opportunity for stable employment actually lowers crime recidivism rates and thus increases public safety,” notes a 2011 report by the National Employment Law Project. But capitalism is dog-eat-dog. Each company looks out for itself, society be damned.

      I dug into the issue of convict-shaming after an op-ed I wrote for the Wall Street Journal calling for automatic expungement of records of people previously convicted of buying recreational marijuana in amounts that would now be legal prompted a discussion online. Some readers agreed with me that it’s absurd to keep punishing people for acts that are now legal. Others felt that if it was a crime at the time a criminal is still a criminal.

      In most countries most employers do not conduct criminal background checks and there is no legal or ethical expectation that ex-cons reveal that they have committed a crime.

      A person is convicted, sentenced to prison time and/or to pay a fine, serves the term and coughs up the money. Isn’t there a logical contradiction between release—which assumes an inmate no longer presents a danger to society—and public shaming? I am thinking of one of the most extreme examples of convict-shaming, Megan’s Law. Based on the false assumption that sex offenders have a high rate of recidivism, these statutes require that released inmates register in a database and notify local police and their neighbors of their address.

    • The Wall Already Exists — In Our Hearts and Minds

      My favorite album of all time is Pink Floyd’s The Wall. It should be re-released given the current (manufactured) crisis. I’m not surprised that Roger Waters is planning a show on the border to protest Trump’s continued government shutdown over funding for an ill-defined barrier that has come to represent everything wrong with his presidency: lies, false promises, fear, racism, and simplistic solutions.

      It’s important to emphasize that the wall is more symbol than reality. Setting aside the fact that the nearly-2,000-mile border is already teeming with armed men and barriers of various kinds, a Trumpian “wall” already exists: the (abstract) wall that blocks many Americans from seeing migrants from Central America and Mexico as people just like them.

      While Trump was rightly condemned for misappropriating the Game of Thrones slogan “Winter Is Coming” by taking the font and changing it to “The Wall Is Coming,” the underlying analogy is eerily correct. Although — spoiler alert — the (mythical) wall is destroyed by undead invaders (who only advance during winter) at the end of the show’s last season, for thousands of years it served to separate the living not only from the undead but also from each other. In a reversal of reality, those living south of the wall disparaged the northerners as “wildlings,” portraying them as amoral, violent, and uncivilized, while the northerners denounced their southern brethren for their cloistered arrogance. Sound familiar?

    • Government Mistakenly Wanted to Deport U.S. Veteran, Says ACLU

      A Marine veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder was held for three days for possible deportation before federal authorities learned that he was a U.S. citizen born in Michigan, lawyers said Wednesday.

      Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, 27, lives in the Grand Rapids area. He was released on Dec. 17 from a detention center in Calhoun County after personal records were provided to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

      “Why did they think he was a noncitizen? Did they get him confused with someone else? Who knows,” ACLU attorney Miriam Aukerman said. “This is an individual who’s incredibly vulnerable with a mental illness.”

      ICE released a statement Wednesday evening saying Ramos-Gomez told its officers he was “a foreign national illegally present in the U.S,” and the agency took him into custody on Dec. 14. ICE said it released him three days later after receiving documentation suggesting he was a U.S. citizen.

    • Haiti’s Forgotten Women and Children

      I lived in Haiti in 2010, arriving six weeks after the January earthquake. I initially worked at a children’s hospital, where I was assigned to a ward full of toddlers, all but one of whom were female, most of them abandoned. I was to change diapers, feed and bathe the children, and do whatever else the staff nurses needed.

      On my third day, a woman from an American nongovernmental organization (NGO) came to our wing and ordered the Haitian nurses about in a troubling manner. She instructed them to prepare the children for photo shoots. She then walked through the ward as a photographer clicked away, while she picked up children and pulled every Princess Diana pose in the book.

      I was disturbed by this scene, as were the nurses, who told me that they could not ask this woman to stop, for fear of losing their jobs. So I intervened and reminded her that she was violating U.N. regulations regarding the safety and privacy of the children. The woman explained that she planned to use these pictures as promotional material for her orphanage in Cuernavaca, Mexico. I reminded her again that these children were considered refugees and that she had no right to take their photos. Long story short, that was the shortest-lived job I ever had. I was shown the door two hours later.

    • Steve King Stands for Everything MLK Fought Against

      If Martin Luther King Jr. were alive, he would have turned 90 years old on Tuesday. Instead, he was felled by an assassin’s bullet that terrible day, April 4, 1968. After a long-fought struggle, his birthday was finally celebrated as a national holiday in 1986. Many states, from New Hampshire to South Carolina to Arizona and beyond, delayed implementing the holiday, exposing the intractability of institutional racism.

      Another King was in the news on MLK Jr.’s birthday this week: Steve King, a racist Republican congressman from Iowa. This King added to his extensive record of racist comments by telling The New York Times last week, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization – how did that language become offensive?” Commenting on the diversity of the new 116th Congress, he added, “You could look over there and think the Democratic Party is no country for white men.” His remarks have sparked a backlash from his own party, which stripped him of his committee assignments. Some Republican members of Congress, along with many Democratic members, are calling on him to resign, as are the editorial boards of prominent Iowa newspapers.

      The House of Representatives, under Democratic control, passed a resolution — on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday — rejecting “White nationalism and White supremacy as hateful expressions of intolerance.” It mentioned Steve King’s comments to The New York Times, but did not expressly condemn him or his words. The resolution passed by a vote of 424-1. Steve King himself voted for the resolution.

    • Iran Newspapers, Minister Criticize U.S. Arrest of Newscaster

      Iran kept up its criticism Thursday of the FBI’s apparent arrest of an American anchorwoman from Iran’s state-run English-language TV channel, with its foreign minister saying “she’s done nothing but journalism.”

      The hard-line Vatan-e Emrooz paper criticized the detention of Press TV’s Marzieh Hashemi as “Saudi-style behavior with a critical journalist.” That’s a reference to the Oct. 2 assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

      Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Press TV that “we have a right to continue to look after her interests” as Hashemi, born Melanie Franklin in New Orleans, also holds Iranian citizenship.

    • Blogger outside Khabarovsk is arrested after sharing video that allegedly shows cops attending a mobster’s funeral

      On January 8, reputed mobster Yuri Zarubin was laid to rest in the town of Amursk, about 150 miles outside Khabarovsk. That same day, Twitter user Mikhail Svetlov shared footage of the funeral procession, recorded by a local woman. Svetlov claims the ceremony blocked road traffic (though the woman who filmed the procession says this isn’t true). A few minutes after this content went up on Twitter, a user named VictorKvert2008 wrote that Zarubin’s pallbearers allegedly included the city’s district attorney and the chief of police. According to the news agency Rosbalt, another Amursk resident wrote online about the funeral and planned to share his own footage of police officers participating in the procession, but he decided not to publish the video, after threats from the authorities.

    • What About Open Borders?

      There are things that go unquestioned in the national discussion. Because this is a country wrapped in fear and self-importance, the basic, unchallenged premise determining how we behave, how we spend our money, is that we need to protect ourselves . . . from The Enemy.

      There’s always an enemy lurking at the core of our fear that is simplistic and human. The “enemy” is not, for instance, global warming, except in an abstract and basically meaningless sense, the defeat of which would require a collective global effort. Nor is the enemy nuclear disaster or accident, which could be addressed by (heaven forbid) disarmament.

      Such solutions have enormous complexities, of course, but these complexities are not part of the national conversation, let alone the actions of government. Instead, we choose to arm—that is, to simplify—our fears, via bloated military budgets and, as is now becoming overly apparent in the age of Donald Trump, turning our “border” into a sacred fetish.

    • House Subcommittee Report Highlights ‘Culture Of Fear And Retaliation’ In Federal Prisons

      Wardens and other senior officials in the federal prison system engage in gross misconduct, avoid consequences by disrupting investigations and disciplinary proceedings, and encourage a “culture of fear and retaliation,” according to a report from a subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

      The deep-seated abuses documented in the report [PDF] have appeared in other government oversight records going back to at least 2004, yet according to the report, “the culture apparently remains.” That culture may impact some efforts to bring relief to federal prisoners via reforms like the First Step Act, which will be implemented this year.

      The report was submitted during the last Congress by Republicans on the Subcommittee on National Security and is dated January 2, 2019.

      “These measures of protection have given management at many [Bureau of Prisons (BOP)] facilities a disturbing level of impunity,” the report states.

      The subcommittee found 12 complaints against five wardens that were opened and closed on a single day. Complaints against senior staff included assaults on prisoners, falsifying records, creating a hostile work environment, embezzlement, harassment, and retaliation. None of the people who lodged complaints were notified of their outcome.

      Misconduct was “largely tolerated or ignored altogether.” The names of specific facilities and personnel were not published in the report.

  • Internet Policy/Net Neutrality

    • FCC Wants Delay In Net Neutrality Trial Due To Government Shutdown, But Isn’t Likely To Get It

      Again, this legal fight is going to be very interesting to watch, as it’s the first time the FCC will have to defend the various bizarre behaviors it engaged in during the repeal, including making up a DDOS attack (apparently to concoct an alternative explanation for the outrage-driven FCC website outage), blocking FOIA and law enforcement inquiries into those bogus comments the FCC refused to do anything about, or why its flimsy justifications for the repeal were pushed in perfect synchronicity with big telecom lobbyists.

      If you were staring down the barrel of that particular gun, you’d probably want a delay too. Should the FCC lose, the agency’s 2015 rules could be restored. If it wins, the FCC and its friends in the telecom sector need to find a way to prevent some future FCC or Congress from simply passing new rules, which is why they’ve been pushing bogus net neutrality laws even Congress hasn’t been dumb enough to buy into quite yet. Get your popcorn ready.

  • DRM

    • Why Does Everyone Else Want To Stop Netflix Password Sharing, When Netflix Is Fine With It?

      Except, that assumes that everyone using a shared password would otherwise buy, which is ludicrous. And, again, the companies whose actual existence depends on this, both insist that it’s not having any impact, other than acting as free marketing for them to later sign people up long term. Incredibly, the reporter at the Independent includes that bogus “study” and other quotes about how password sharing is “too expensive to ignore,” but doesn’t bother to check to see HBO or Netflix’s opinion of whether or not this is actually a problem.

      It really is a shame that so many people automatically default to the idea that people sharing access to content must automatically be “a problem” that must be “stopped.” The companies who dominate this space don’t see it as a problem, and just because some company’s PR team got the ear of a reporter, that doesn’t change reality.

  • Intellectual Monopolies

    • The FTC has rested its likely-winning case with a final hand grenade destroying a Qualcomm mantra

      Yesterday (Tuesday, January 15) was Day 6 of the FTC v. Qualcomm antitrust trial in San Jose (Northern District of California), which will continue in Judge Lucy H. Koh’s court on Friday, January 18.

      When FTC lead counsel Jennifer Milici said “Your Honor, the FTC rests its case,” you could have heard a pin drop even if there had been thousands of people in the audience, provided that all of them would have been reasonably knowledgeable. That’s because seconds before that procedural notice, former Qualcomm licensing president Marvin Blecker had been confronted, in a videotaped deposition, with an internal email in which a colleague confirmed to him that Qualcomm’s chip division had actually held product shipments to a customer who had not yet accepted Qualcomm’s license terms.

      It had been Qualcomm’s mantra all the time that they had never actually carried out the “No License-No Chips” threat against existing customers. They couldn’t deny that they wouldn’t accept a new customer prior to taking a license from them. And an Apple witness said that after Apple sued Qualcomm (in January 2017), Qualcomm refused to even discuss a potential 5G product partnership with Apple. But again, Qualcomm’s lawyers had over and over again–you could set your watch by them–elicited testimony from current and former Qualcommm executives that the company had never carried out the threat of holding chipset shipments to an existing customer due to disagreements on licensing.

      In the seconds before resting its case, the FTC made them all look like…well, I don’t want to use the harsh words that I actually think would be warranted here, so let me just call them “unreliable witnesses and lawyers you better don’t trust in this context.”

    • Copyrights

      • Nearly 100 European Authors Demand ‘Proportionate’ Remuneration In EU Copyright Directive

        With negotiations for the European Union Copyright Directive apparently approaching an end, a group of some 95 screenwriters and directors joined the intensive lobbying efforts with a letter today urging that a principle of “proportionate” remuneration to them be enshrined. The letter spells out several elements they argue are key to ensuring European audiovisual authors are able to “make a living from our craft and creativity.”

      • The EU’s Copyright Directive Charm Offensive Pats Europeans On the Head and Tells Them Leave it Up to the Corporations

        In a new Q&A about the Directive, the European Parliament – or rather, the JURI committee, which, headed by Axel Voss, spearheaded the shepherding of Article 13 and 11 through a skeptical Parliament, sets out a one-sided account of the most far-reaching regulation of online speech in living memory, insisting that “online platforms and news aggregators are reaping all the rewards while artists, news publishers and journalists see their work circulate freely, at best receiving very little remuneration for it.”

        The author of JURI’s press release is right about one thing: artists are increasingly struggling to make a living, but not because the wrong corporations are creaming off the majority of revenue that their work generates. For example, streaming music companies hand billions to music labels, but only pennies reach the artists. Meanwhile, a handful of giant companies make war with one another over which ones will get to keep the spoils of creators’ works. In a buyers’ market, sellers get a worse deal, and when there are only five major publishers and four record labels and five Internet giants, almost everyone is a seller in a buyers’ market.

      • Poland, Take Action Now: Tell Negotiators to Oppose Article 13 and 11

        (Almost) everybody hates these ideas. Not only have four million Europeans signed a petition opposing the Directive’s passage in the current form; it has also been roundly condemned by Europe’s largest movie companies and sports leagues and the Internet’s most esteemed technical experts, including the Father of the Internet Vint Cerf, and the inventor of the World Wide Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

      • Sweden — and You! — Can Save the Internet from the Copyright Directive
      • Luxembourg: Save the Internet from the Copyright Directive
      • Belgium: Say No To Article 13 and 11
      • Germans Can Help Save the Internet from the Copyright Directive!

        Write to Germany’s EU Negotiators and say No to Article 13 and 11

        We had hoped that the EU and national government negotiators would delete Article 13, the “censorship machines” rule that requires online platforms to hand their users’ videos, texts, audio and images to black-box machine learning filters that would unilaterally decide whether these infringed copyright and thus whether they would be censored or allowed to be published.

        Instead, the current text goes to enormous lengths to obscure its mandate for AI filters. The new language says that filters “should be” avoided, and that companies can escape liability if they use “best practices” to fight infringement. But the rule also says that the limitation of liability doesn’t apply where there is “economic harm”—meaning that a user has any commercial content—and it also requires “notice and staydown,” which means that once a platform has been notified that a given file infringes copyright, it must prevent all of its users from ever posting that content again.

      • Google Shows What Google News Looks Like If Article 11 Passes In The EU Copyright Directive

        While much of the focus concerning the EU’s Copyright Directive have been about Article 13 and the censorship and mandatory filters it will require, an equally troubling part is Article 11, which will create a “snippet” tax on anyone who aggregates news and sends traffic back to the original sites (for free) without paying those news sites. This is dumb for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is that this plan has been tried in both Germany and Spain, and failed miserably in both places. Indeed, studies in Spain showed that this law actually did tremendous harm to smaller news sites (which the EU insists this law is designed to help). The latest version we’ve seen in the EU Copyright Directive is even worse than the laws in Germany and Spain in that it is so vague and so unclear that it is possible to read them to say that using more than a single word will make the aggregator liable for the tax.

        In Spain, as you may recall, when that law was passed, Google responded by turning off Google News in Spain entirely, saying that it was impossible to remain in the country under that law. As they noted (and which everyone pushing for these laws always ignores), Google actually doesn’t put any advertisements on Google News. It’s not monetizing it (despite lies from supporters of these laws that Google is “profiting” off of their work, when Google is actually sending traffic for free). So there were some questions about what Google would do with Google News in Europe if Article 11 becomes law.

      • Vimeo ‘Fined’ €8.5m For Failure to Remove Copyrighted TV Content

        Vimeo has been ordered to pay Italian broadcasting giant €8.5m in compensation after failing to take down copyrighted TV shows. The Rome Court of Appeals also ordered the US-based video service to prevent future uploads of the content or face 1,000 or euros in fines for each offense.

      • Star Wars Theory’s “Vader” Fan Film Hit With Copyright Claim (Update)

        A ‘Vader’ fan film published by the “Star Wars Theory” YouTube channel has been hit with a copyright claim. While the channel’s owner was told that he could not monetize the production, the video is now running ads for Warner/Chappell, which owns the rights to the original Star Wars theme music. The issue angered many Star Wars fans but the music publisher doesn’t plan to back down.

      • Rightsholders Call for Suspension of Article 13

        A group of prominent representatives of the audiovisual and sports sectors, including the MPA and the Premier League, are calling for a suspension of the current Article 13 negotiations. The companies suggest that a case currently before the EU Court of Justice may give them a ‘better deal’ than the copyright reform proposal.

      • EU Copyright Directive to Turn Google into Ghost Town

        The EU Copyright Directive has made a lot of waves lately given that many fear that some of its provisions will lead to increased censorship, with almost 4.5 million Europeans signing a change.org petition to stop Article 13.

        This article was the one that attracted almost everyone’s attention seeing that it will require large online platforms such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to always keep an eye out on what their users are uploading and block all copyrighted items such as videos, images, and text.

        The other controversial article part of the EU Copyright Directive is Article 11, a provision which will force news aggregators to pay the copyright holders a fee for every news item they link to.

        Google, one of the most heated critics of the two provisions, is now testing a new search engine results page (SERP) template where the EU Copyright Directive is applied to the listed search results “to understand what the impact of the proposed EU Copyright Directive would be to our users and publisher partners,” according to Search Engine Land.

US Patent Lawyers Will Need to Change Profession or End up Becoming Abundantly Redundant, Unemployed

Posted in America, Patents at 6:04 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Last year: Number of US Patent Lawsuits Was More Than 50% Higher Half a Decade Ago

Patent Lawyers' Tears

Summary: In the age of Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) inter partes reviews (IPRs) and 35 U.S.C. § 101 it’s too risky to sue with dodgy patents; moreover, the Federal Circuit‘s growing adoption of Alice means that no recent cases have given hope to patent maximalists and litigation frequency has fallen again (at double-digit rates)

FOR THOSE who still wonder why we don’t write much about the USPTO anymore (we still cover EPO affairs), it’s to do with the decline of patent litigation in the US. It seems to still accelerate though anti-PTAB front groups continue to cherry-pick numbers and pretend that the Office can influence courts; it’s the other way around [1, 2].

“Over the past few years many such shops have shut down or have been taken over/merged. The father of patent trolling died along with his ‘business’ and the world’s biggest troll, Intellectual Ventures, is shedding off ‘assets’.”We’ve taken note of the demise of the litigation capital in Texas and currently the European Patent Office is failing to create an alternative to it in Europe (the UPC is failing). After litigation had already fallen sharply (it used to be a half higher half a decade ago, i.e. around the time of Alice) we learned that as per the “Docket Navigator database on January 14, some 3,600 cases were filed in 2018 – down 11.5%,” as Managing IP put it. It’s pretty clear that the patent litigation ‘industry’ has collapsed in the US. It’s good for people who actually make/innovate stuff; not so good for litigators and trolls. Over the past few years many such shops have shut down or have been taken over/merged. The father of patent trolling died along with his ‘business’ and the world’s biggest troll, Intellectual Ventures, is shedding off ‘assets’. If we don’t cover US patents as much as we did last year, this is why. So far this week Watchtroll has already attacked both SCOTUS and PTAB. It also liaised with IBM for some more software patents propaganda, reaffirming our fears for Red Hat's fate.

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