Sunday, January 15, 2017

"Full Measure" with Sharyl Attkisson deals with "Threat Matrix" and possible cyber attacks on banking system, power grids

WJLA’s “Full Measure” with Sharyl Attkisson Sunday morning dealt with the “threat matrix”. 
CIA director Brennan warned that a cyberattack on Wall Street and banks is possible, wiping out 401(k)’s.  Like Ted Koppel, he warns of a cyberattack on the power grids (he didn’t mention EMP or “One Second After”). He even thinks a cyberattack on the Pentagon or NSA is possible, which I have always taken as a baseline of security to be followed (like my saying electric utilities need military-grade security).

Brennan thinks we are safer than we were in 2002, but less safe than in 2009. Radical Islam spreads in poor and underdeveloped areas of the world, especially Africa.

There was also a stark warning about North Korea, which could conceivably reach the US West Coast, or at least Alaska, with a nuclear warhead on an ICBM by 2019. It is not clear that NORAD is prepared for it.  There is also a question on whether the US nuclear force should always be on high alert (Fareed Zakaria).
Atkinson also looked at coal miners’ jobs, focusing on Pennsylvania.  Natural gas has replaced coal because it is cheaper and especially cleaner with respect to CO2.  But there is a new clean coal power plant near Pittsburgh.
For every miner that gets laid off, four other people are affected. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

"My Reality: A Hidden America": Diane Sawyer explores low-wage work on ABC 20-20

Friday night January 13, 2017 ABC 20-20 aired a report by Diane Sawyer, “My Reality: A Hidden America”, about the lives of working people with low wages.  The best link is here.

 The tone of the broadcast reminds me of Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2001 book “Nickel and Dimed” where she went undercover and took low-wage jobs.

What we call the middle class has shrunk.  Because of the way market forces work in a system of extreme capitalism, housing prices have risen much more quickly than the ability of average people to pay for housing has risen.

So the report shows many people working multiple jobs and doing extreme commutes to make ends meet.  In the Silicon Valley, one worker commutes four hours each way, partly by bicycle, to get to a job in Palo Alto.  The film showed a firemam and EMT technician with three jobs and alternate nights away from home, and little time at home.

The film also covered fast food workers, and explained how franchise owners often set the rules.

In the Silicon Valley, major companies have recently become more attentive to the behavior of contractors who hire workers to provide basic services, especially drivers for employees, so benefits and wages of some service workers on the campuses if these big tech companies have improved.

A lot of people see low wage jobs as a way of “paying your dues”, a test for deserving a better station in life.

Friday, January 13, 2017

ABC Nightline issues scathing update on Backpage, which shut down its adult section after appearing before Senate

ABC Nightline last night late aired a scathing report on, which reportedly pulled its adult ads section after facing a Senate committee.  The video for the report is here.  It will move on and play a second video (total 25 minutes).

Sunny Hostin  from “The View” explained how Section 230 (of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, of Communications Decency Act, is supposed to work).  It protects a site from what users (“other people”) post on it.  But the reporter did ask, “shouldn’t a site owner know what’s on it’s site?”

 Well, if you’re a company with tens of thousands of users, which is the scale you need for profits, that isn’t possible.  That’s why we have Section 230.

But it appears that Backpage may have altered some ads;  it if knew what was there, then it can’t credibly claim immunity.  Or maybe it can, according to this site.

I presume that the Bloomberg article on Backpage’s conduct is factual enough to link to it, here.

The case is important because it can tempt Congress, especially in a new Trump administration with a president personally hostile to computers (“no computer is safe”) to eliminate Section 230 entirely, as merely protecting “gratuitous” speech that doesn’t carry its own weight but allows some users to pose grave asymmetric risks to others.  In other words, all must sacrifice some freedom because of the behavior of the few, like giving an entire class detention in school for the behavior of two or three students – it happens.

But, then, how would the Supreme Court rule on the inevitable legal challenges.  Congress could try to narrow any tightening of 230 to ad content rather than articles, but it could be hard to draw a clean line.  Is an author’s page selling books an ad, especially if it takes credit cards directly?

ABC hasn’t put its latest video up yet.  The report above is a few months old.  The Backpage issue has been going on for quite some time, with courts using Section 230 to let it off the hook, but that could change now.

It would be instructive to compare Backpage’s use of Section 230 to that of Airbnb.
It would also be important to know how effective is law enforcement in protecting individual girls (underage) with case-by-case arrests and prosecutions of customers (like in NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” a few years ago).

Section 230 does not shield hosts for child pornography, but they are liable only if they know about it or see it themselves first;  they don’t pro-actively screen for it (although Google now screens for digital watermarks of known images).

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

CNN blitzes us with hearings, forums, farewall speeches while social media users declare "Politics Free Zones"

While Facebook friends declare “politics free zones” (and make me wonder if I shouldn’t continue to post stories about (T)Rump, CNN is blitzing us with politics.

Monday night, Chris Cuomo conducted a town hall for Bernie Sanders (65 minutes).  Sanders still wants to pay for free college education with higher taxes on Wall Street speculation.

Tuesday morning, Jeff Sessions, 70, put on his Sunday best, and tacitly admitted that times have changed since he was a young man in Alabama.  He even admitted that LGBT people are sometimes victims of hate crimes.  He said he would follow the law and the Supreme Court, but not his own opinions.  He had no quarrel now with gay marriage, but he thinks that Roe v. Wade is constitutionally wrong.

People showed up protesting the KKK.

Tuesday night, Obama gave his final speech in Chicago, and user Air Force One for the last time.  He said that freedom is not “self-executing”.  He challenged people to get out of their mindset where they will read only what they want to hear.  He argued for truth and science, almost as if Jack Andraka or Taylor Wilson had written this part of the speech.

Wednesday morning, Rex Tillerson of Exxon (and a former head of the Boy Scouts of America, before it gave up its antigay policies) testifies, again with moderate responses.  Protestors have interrupted a couple time.

At 11:00 AM (T)Rump will have his press conference.

Update: Jan 14

CNN also aired "The Legacy of Michelle Obama" on Jan. 13.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

CBS 60 Minutes: "The Hostage Policy" examines the issue of paying ransom to terrorists

Tonight Lesley Stahl did a somber report on CBS 60 Minutes, about the question “Should the U.S. Government pay ransom money?”    The episode was also titled “The Hostage Policy”.

Stahl interviewed the parents Art and Shirley Sotloff, of murdered journalist Stephen Sotloff.  Stahl also interviewed Lisa Monaco from the Obama administration, and she defended Obama’s policy.
Peter Bergen says that European countries which do pay ransom don’t have proportionally more kidnappings.  (The UK does not.)  Federal law also makes it illegal for a family to pay ransom or for individuals to contribute to ransom funds, but the DOJ says it will not prosecute such cases.

Stahl suggested that the government could pay ransom but in secret and denial.

I would not involve myself in ransom payment attempts (there are phishing attacks on the Internet trying to do this), and do not expect it to ever be done for me.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

PBS: "Beyond Borders: Undocumented Mexican Americans"

Tonight, PBS WHUT Howard University Television in Washington DC aired “Undocumented Mexican Americans” as part of its “Beyond Bordersseries. There was a film by this name about Doctors Beyond Borders in Africa in 2003.

The episode traced some undocumented people chased back to Mexico, including one woman who had been here 35 years and was stopped on a traffic ticket in San Diego. The families would be separated if the kids stayed.

The film presented the sharp increase in the number of deportations under Obama. It also presented Obama’s history trying to pass a Dream Act before implementing his own Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012.

But illegal immigration into the US has gone down since 2008 because of the US recession as well as a drop in birthrates in Mexico, even if violence-driven immigration from deep in Central America, like El Salvador, may increase.

Monday, January 02, 2017

"Rock the Park": Jack and Colton take chances with the grizzlies, and hypothermia in Denali National Park, Alaska

The last two episodes of “Rock the Park” on Saturday mornings, with Jack Steward and Colton Smith, have sent the explorers to Denali National Park, around Mt. McKinley, in Alaska.

Even in July, with the 20 hour days, some nights are cold out in the open.  The men put food out several hundred feet away from their tents on poles to keep grizzly bears from visiting them.  Of course, that means that bears will learn to expect food from man’s visits and depend less on their own fishing and hunting skills.

In another episode, the men skinny dipped into cold streams and had to whitewater, keeping changes of clothes around to avoid hypothermia even in summer.

They also explored a moulon (ice cave) at great risk.

In 1980, I flew in a private seaplane tour that climbed up the face of McKinkley to about 9000 feet, and then retreated to a party at a “cabin in the woods” on a lake before returning to Anchorage.
Wikipedia attribution link for Ruth Glacier photo by Brian Schaller, CCSA 3.0.
Second picture is actually Tioga Pass in California (mine, May, 2012).

But, then, there is fantasy:
Gore-Tex has an adverisement article showing the "boys" from Rock the Park in Alaska here