Fiscal cliff redux

By Nick Davis

This month Congress averted the fiscal cliffmageddontastrophe by a 11th hour and 59th minute passage of a makeshift bill to avert massive tax increases and spending cuts. 

With all of these big numbers and terms like ‘sequestration’ flying around, it can be difficult for many people to wrap their head around all of it; 800 hundred million billion, anyone?

What we do know is that when George Bush passed a series of tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 the national debt started going up. Differing sources have debated the effectiveness of these cuts to promote economic growth. The Heritage Foundation has claimed that these cuts have paid for themselves while the Center For Budget and Policy Priorities have disputed these claims. Either way you look at, there’s no doubt that the federal debt took a sharp uptick after these cuts and it hasn’t looked back since.

With the national debt hovering around 16 trillion our government set itself a deadline to implement a savings plan to reduce the debt or else the nation would run itself off the fiscal cliff. The deadline was supposed to be an armageddon-like scenario that no reasonable elected official from any party would want to have expire, thereby forcing a comprehensive, bi-partisan solution to the fiscal problems. Of course that did not happen. 

The inforgraphic above gives a sense of how landmark the deal that was struck this month actually was, in comparison to your typical household budget. As you can see we have not really reduced the debt. We’ve reduced the rate at which the debt is increasing. These spending cuts are just a drop in the bucket, but instead of a bucket, think swimming pool. In addition, the sequestration measures I talked about earlier were delayed 2 months in order to allow for further negotiation, also aligning with the same general time frame that we’ll once again reach our debt ceiling. Great.

Ok, let’s take a second to recap.  Each year we add $16,500 to the family budget. The new revenues raised by the tax restoration in the most recent legislation amounts to about 2% of our family income while we cut $3.85 each year. I don’t think anyone thinks that’s a recipe for financial success at the individual or federal level. It’s our politicians make some real sacrifices and tough decisions if we ever want to gain control of our debt problem.

The infographic you just posted, do you have a higher resolution one, or a link to such? Thanks!

Yup. I noticed the hi-res is not loading. Will fix it shortly. thx. 

Sleeping with cell phones

As more and more Americans purchase cell phones, more and more data is showing how core human behaviors are changing as a result of this invention. This infographic covers how phones are affecting our sleep.

Badgets in Bed Infographic

The Future Of Energy: The Clean Cloud

By Ian Rosoff

Last month I wrote about Google and the Future Of Energy, and talked about tech companies getting into the alternative energy game. I’d like to continue that discussion because the energy cost of cloud computing and information technology in general is currently 2% of global CO2 emissions, and that number is expected to double by 2020. Internet traffic is rapidly growing and as data storage moves to the cloud, the huge server rooms of HP, IBM, Google, will demand incredible energy production.

The mobile explosion will also add to the ICT carbon output, so let’s talk about Apple who is an integral leader in the cell phone market. In my opinion, 2012 belonged to Apple since they dominated both culturally and financially. In my last article, I focused on Google’s balance sheet, but with the New Year upon us it’s fun to speculate what Apple will do with cash creeping toward $100 billion. Obviously, dividends and stock buy back are options and CEO Tim Cook has stated they have more cash than needed to run the company, so the question is how to spend that fortune. Green data centers are the first step. Apple was criticized for sourcing data with coal fired electricity in the past, but are now committed to improving their efficiency grades with environmental advocacy groups.

Even though companies like Apple, Google and Amazon  are currently receiving poor environmental grades they are extremely flexible companies and seem to be determined to change for public perception and financial reasons. It’s encouraging to see Apple getting into green data because they love vertical integration, and controlling the entire production path of all their products, so we may see them step up their alternative energy strategy. As ICT continues to produce a greater carbon footprint and ICT companies look to become green, I’m confident there will be huge innovation in alternative energy.

Greenpeace came out with a “How Clean Is Your Cloud” report in 2012. Transparency is the big issue here, because with the explosive growth of the cloud and mobile phones t’s hard to measure power use. Green IT is about combining efficiency with renewable energy. Tapping into the green grid will require big ICT companies to build that grid to meet their growing needs.

Where does government regulation come into play? Because most of the infrastructure for the cloud will be new, it will all have to meet current EPA and other government standards. But the real legislation concerning the cloud and ICT is still in its infancy. Senator Amy Klobuchar proposed a “Cloud Computing Act of 2012”, but it seems likely that it will never see the floor. Law makers seem uncertain about what cloud computing is and how it will impact banking, data, e-commerce, and a myriad of other issues that may need regulation. Legislation is tricky because we don’t know what the problems are that need to be solved yet. Regardless, laws regarding ICT are likely to be about fraud and security not energy and the environment. This is why it is crucial that tech companies seek to become green independent of legislation.

What I love about green data storage is that it means U.S. companies can provide clean cloud services for emerging markets and help reduce carbon emission for China and India.  For a while I’ve been worried about an inability to share the burden of carbon reduction across the world in an efficient manner, equally concerning was how to make alternative energy production competitive with fossil fuels before scarcity necessitated that reality. Green data and clean cloud may be able to solve both those pressing problems or at least help. I’ll be continuing to monitor this narrative throughout 2013 as more information about ICT and the environmental impact becomes available, and as tech companies react to the energy cost of cloud computing.

                                 

The 16 Most Ridiculous White House Petitions

By Nick Davis



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What’s more American than exercising your constitutional right to petition your government? Below in bold are 16 hilariously ridiculous, yet totally legitimate, White House petitions in all their glory. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to hear a formal response from the President on any of these.  Don’t hurt yourself laughing.


Authorize the Production of a Recurring Television Program Featuring Vice President Joe Biden.

Joe Biden on the nightly news is gut-busting enough. In fact, I’m starting to develop a nice set of abs.


Include and Recognize the Sport of Table Tennis A.K.A. “Ping Pong” as Part of a School’s Athletic Curriculum of Choice.

I think China, Japan, and South Korea have table tennis on lock. We should focus on something that America doesn’t dominate yet, but can also easily rise to the top. I suggest Roller Derby.


Allow United States Military Service Members to Place Their Hands In Their Pockets.

If anyone deserves to put their hands in their pockets, it’s the United States military. We thank you service men and women.


Direct the United States Mint to Make a Single Platinum Trillion-Dollar Coin!

Kudos to this person. Instead of bitching and complaining, they actually came up with a solution, albeit a little shortsighted.

RESIGN!

NO!

Impeach the GOP Congress Immediately while Withholding Their Pay and All Benefits. Make This Retroactive to 11-7-2012.

The Democrats had a hell of a time getting Republicans to agree to tax hikes. Good luck on getting them to pay back two months worth of salary.


Nationalize the Twinkie Industry.

God help us. Maybe a Joe Biden reality show makes sense now.


Try Senator Dianne Feinstein in a Federal Court For Treason Against the Constitution.

The United States legal code states treason is punishable by death. Yeah, that seems reasonable.

 

Create ‘Gun Free Politician Zones’ for all politicians who support ‘Gun Free School Zones’ and strict gun control laws.

You can’t just create a ‘______ Free Zone” for anything. If that were allowed, we should make a ‘Lame Petition Free Zone’ with your computer at the top of the list.

 

Deport British Citizen Piers Morgan for Attacking 2nd Amendment.

Can’t we deport this guy for wasting our time?

 

Keep Piers Morgan In the USA.

A better petition would be to reinstate Morgan as a judge on “America’s Got Talent,” a place where his snide comments can be appreciated.

 

Establish New Legal System of Motorcycle Riding “Judges” Who Serve As Police, Judge, Jury, and Executioner All In One.

Because who hasn’t wanted Hell’s Angels as supreme overlords at one point or another?

 

Place the DC “Taxation Without Representation” License Plate on the Presidential Limousine.

I like this person’s sense of history and ironic usage of the fabled, “No Taxation Without Representation.” The Founding Fathers would be proud.

 

Secure Resources and Funding then Begin Construction of a Death Star by 2016.

Nuclear weapons? Child’s play!

 

Outlaw Offending Prophets of Major Religions.

My prophet is better than your prophet.

 

Deport Everyone That Signed A Petition To Withdraw Their State From The United States of America.

Finally! Some common sense! I think we can all get behind this.

Six Things You Can Expect In 2013

By Nick Davis


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Happy New Year.

2012 has come and gone and not without it’s fair share of political turning points. We saw Barack Obama elected to his second term as president as well as ballot measures approving marijuana possession and gay marriage. Who would have thought four years ago that we would see the legalization of these two controversial issues, not to mention in the same year?

In addition, several individual events also shaped legislative policy in this country. Just recently, the horrific shooting in Newtown, Connecticut sparked resurgence in calls for tighter gun control. The terrorist attack on our embassy in Benghazi, Libya, including the assassination of the American ambassador and its subsequent handling by the Obama administration, left the country divided as to how well protected we are from terrorism.

Finally, the only thing the U.S. has been able to focus on since the election has been scheduled tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect the first of the year, also known as the fiscal cliff. Congress came together in the 11th hour to strike a deal. While the majority of expected effect was avoided, most Americans will still see an increase in taxes, mostly due to an expiration in Social Security payroll tax cuts.

After a wild ride in 2012, what can we expect to see from our government in the New Year? Here are 6 things to keep your eyes on:

Gun Control

As I mentioned earlier, gun control will become a hot topic in 2013. We’ve already heard from Barack Obama and the NRA as to how to deal with this culture of violence. Democrats are pushing for a renewed assault weapons ban that was first introduced by Bill Clinton in 1994 as well as a national gun registry. Republicans have opposed these measures choosing to focus on a culture of violence stemming from TV and video games and citing the lack of care and treatment of mentally ill individuals.

Despite calls for tighter gun laws, does anyone actually think we’ll take meaningful steps toward reform? We already had an assault rifles ban and yet that didn’t stop shootings from happening. On top of that, if Congress takes into account the attitudes of the American people, they’ll see that support over time has decreased for stricter gun laws, with the usual spikes after major shootings like we’re seeing right now. We’ve been through this cycle again and again. Call me a pessimist, but I’ll believe in gun reform when I see it.

Immigration

After the 2012 election, Republicans were left reeling with questions about how to win non-white voters. Hispanic voters voted 69% in favor of the President leaving many to wonder whether the GOP needs to reevaluate its stance on immigration. Democrats also have immigration reform on their radar. Obama has said that it will be a priority in his new term but has kept his hand close to his chest.

Immigration is a place where Obama can score a relatively easy legislative victory as long as the proposal isn’t too radical. He has the GOP looking to revamp its stance given their loss in the last election and compromise here shouldn’t be too difficult. Republicans will be willing to work with the President on immigration in order to change their perception among minority groups, especially Latinos. At this point, all he needs to do is allocate the time, something he hasn’t done in the last four years.

Debt Ceiling

If you thought the fiscal cliff deal would be the end of economic bickering for a while, think again. The United States has already reached it’s debt ceiling despite voting to raise it this past summer which saw a credit downgrade from the three major credit bureaus. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner employed some accounting measures in order to avoid hitting the debt ceiling on New Year’s Eve, but he couldn’t say how long those measures would be needed before hitting it again.

Republicans are hoping to use this new fight to reform government spending, specifically entitlement programs. There is no doubt that every department has waste it can cut out of the budget, but Republicans better be careful. After six weeks of political chicken, Republicans are seen as the guilty party when it comes to negotiating - whether they deserve it or not. They can’t roll over but they can’t take the negotiations down to the wire. The US and the Republicans, cannot afford another credit downgrade. Expect another knockdown, drag-out fight.

Syria

Reports are coming out of Syria that the death toll has risen to approximately 60,000 since the fighting began last spring. Barack Obama has taken a hands-off approach to the fighting choosing instead to arm the rebels and put increasing pressure on President Bashar Al-Assad to relinquish power. However, for a war weary nation, Obama has threatened military action if the Syrian government uses chemical weapons against its own people.  The country has proven the most volatile of the Arab Spring nations and there doesn’t seem to be an end in site.

With government debt at an all time high, it doesn’t make fiscal sense to start another war. Obama needs to take the same general approach he did with Libya, keeping troops off the ground by arming and training the rebels and strategically using our drones. Americans will not be keen to see more military personnel killed in yet another Middle East country.

Barack Obama

It’s no secret that he won a second term as president. Now what will he do with it? Obama has already proven he has a taste for landmark legislation with the Affordable Care Act.  Now that he doesn’t have to run for reelection, he could take a step to the left, however, that could be negated by the fact that 2nd term presidents are usually most effective in their first two years until they become a lame duck.

I expect Obama to be more ambitious in his 2nd term, not more progressive. His ideas on the environment, gun control, and the need for immigration and education reform are well known. It will be interesting to see what one of the most polarizing president in recent memory will do with his 2nd term in 2013.

The Republican Party

It doesn’t seem the Republicans fully recovered from the ire they drew from the American people following George W. Bush’s presidency. They can’t even agree to be united among themselves as evidenced by their infighting over John Boehner’s Plan B. If they have any hope of taking back the White House in 2016, they will need to take a long, hard look at what they stand for and how they will interact with Democrats. The GOP would be better served if they dropped their hard line stances on social issues like gay marriage, abortion, and immigration and focus on how best to keep our economy and finances under control.

Religion in the 113th Congress

via @PewResearch

The Fiscal Cliff: Deal

Late last night, Congress finally managed to pass a bill to resolve some of the fiscal cliff issues. While this may seem like a major victory for Congress, the President, and the American people, it actually leaves many questions unanswered, and several of the major issues such as the budget ceiling, the extension of the payroll tax deal, and just about any long term issue, still on the table.

However, the fact that any deal was reached is remarkable in itself. Anyone who followed the back and forth of the negotiations this holiday season knows that it was not easy getting to this point. Citizens were outraged, and rightly so, that politicians seemed to be putting their party’s interests before those of the American people, while lawmakers struggled to gain any ground against roadblocks at every turn. Congress managed to create a drama of cinematic proportions before delivering a plan at the absolute last second.

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So who were the big winners and losers in the deal? Let’s start with Obama. He was successful in raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans (although not as much as he had originally hoped) and protecting the middle class. This is what he had been promising to do all along, and having claims to validate his support for the average citizen can only help his popularity. The middle class was also a winner in this deal, as they will enjoy permanent Bush tax cuts in 2013. Joe Biden also came out on top. He was critical in making this last minute deal happen, working with McConnell across party lines when it seemed Reid had no further sway.

The losers of the fiscal cliff deal are also becoming apparent. Most obviously, the 1% took a hit with huge tax increases coming their way. While not as high as Obama had originally intended, the estate tax will spike to 40%, and taxes on their dividends will hit 20%. Boehner was also a loser with his “Plan B” failing miserably, and majority leader Reid has little to show for all his effort as well. Interestingly, neither party had a decisive victory over the other, which could point to promising hints of compromise and bipartisan efforts.

Finally, anyone highly concerned with the budget can count this as a loss. The deficit was not decreased and the limit of 16.4 trillion dollars was broken on Monday. Congress plans to address this and other remaining issues in the coming weeks. President Obama has stated they plan to do so "with a little bit less drama, a little less brinksmanship, [so as to] not scare the heck out of folks quite as much." Yes President Obama, that would be nice.

So here’s to a new year! We can all breathe a little easier knowing that progress has been made, but can expect more drama and deals to come in the next few weeks. In the meantime, even the President returned to Hawaii. We all deserve a little break.

Culture Just As Much to Blame as Guns and Mental Illness

By Nick Davis

 

It remains to be seen what historical impact last Friday’s events at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut will have on the political course of this country, but it seems that one thing is clear; people are ready for some sort of change. And honestly, if there wasn’t a call for change given what has transpired over these past few years, I would almost be as disturbed as I am by the actual shootings themselves. Newtown may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

As soon as I heard that the death count was over 20, I knew that this event would turn into a political firestorm. Predictably, Democrats called for reforms in gun control while Republicans called for an evaluation of cultural influences including violent video games, prayer in school, and available institutional help for those who are mentally ill. All of these factors deserve careful consideration. There is no doubt that something needs to be done to prevent these horrific events from happening in the future, but there is one thing that needs to be addressed in this country before we can begin to move on.

Today in America, we have a culture problem. We as a society have forgotten the ‘golden rule’ and have replaced it with a war of words and one-upmanship. Once again, both parties used a national tragedy for political gain.

Sunday morning, Mike Huckabee suggested that, had there been more prayer and Christian influence in schools, this kind of thing wouldn’t happen. To suggest that somehow these 26 people, including 20 children I might add, would somehow have been saved had they engaged in a little prayer at school is misguided. Mr. Huckabee’s suggestion that religion, one of the main sources of conflict in this world, could have stopped this tragedy is erroneous to say the least.

Republicans weren’t the only ones using this tragedy to jockey for political points either. While I absolutely agree that President Barack Obama needed to address the situation Friday and then speak at an interfaith service Sunday night, he was quick to choose to use that platform as a launching pad for a national debate, presumably about gun rights and the role they play in society. While he came across as genuinely affected, the timing of the remarks made it difficult for me to believe that Obama truly was heartbroken since he was making  such a political statement at a remembrance ceremony. He could have easily made the same remarks today and it would have had the same impact.

It’s also worth noting that when NBC cut away from Sunday Night Football to broadcast the Presidents interfaith speech, it received waves of hateful and racist tweets all because viewers missed 18 minutes of the game. It’s this kind of disrespectful culture that ultimately harvests these horrific shootings.

On a very basic level, Republicans and Democratic NRA supported congressman must realize that there is no infringement of 2nd amendment rights just because the government wants to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and unstable individuals.  Those who oppose the NRA, mostly Democrats, must realize that guns have legitimate uses including hunting and a natural right to defend one’s self. However, if we ever truly want to make these tragedies fewer and farther between, we must address more than just guns. The NRA is expected to make a statement on Friday. While many hope for them to take a stance against assault rifles, the truth remains that even with more regulation, people will always be able to get their hands on guns.

We need to fix our culture of hateful discourse and realize that we all want the same thing, a peaceful and thriving society. If everyone on Facebook and Twitter actually followed through on their posts of “thoughts and prayers,” that alone would go a long way to fix our fractured society. If we put a little more effort into thinking and caring about others all the time, instead of after a national tragedy, we would be much better off.


The Access Tech Innovation Prize

By Aasil Ahmad

One of the things I’m proud to be involved with is Access, an organization dedicated to preserving internet access and privacy for the world’s most vulnerable internet users.

One thing that is clear - the battle for freedom on the Internet is not just something that affects activists in Syria, Burma or Egypt. It affects everyone with a mobile phone or internet connection. 

The International Telecommunications Union (the UN agency that handles this stuff) has been holding (secretive) meetings to talk about a global governance regime for the internet. It approved a new technology standard that basically makes it very easy for governments to eavesdrop on everything that flows over the internet. This can’t be a good thing. Brett Solomon, Access Executive Director, penned an essay in Wired in which he explained why the UN should not be making decisions about the architecture of the internet behind closed doors. 

At least there is someone working day and night to promote awareness and innovation in this space. Earlier this year Access announced its first ever Tech Innovation Prize. The purpose of the competition was to encourage hackers around the world to develop products and features that integrated technology with a human rights objective. 

The Access Innovation Prize is a new initiative that will award 5 lots of US$20,000 to individuals, organizations or networks that have the best actionable ideas of how to use information technology to promote and enable human rights or deliver a social good outcome. $100,000 will be granted in 2012.

The categories for the competition include:

Blackout Resilience

For the best actionable idea to help build an open-sourced, blackout resilient technology for use by activists and human rights workers in conditions where there is a need for alternate communications infrastructure to the one put in place and/or controlled by the authorities. For example, where there has been a communication network shutdown.

Making Crypto Easy

For the best actionable idea to properly integrate encryption into an existing product/system, educate users as to how to use encryption and/or build a community who use encryption by default.

The Bounty

For the best patch for a disclosed or as yet undisclosed vulnerability in a program/platform or software used by human rights defenders and activists. 

UPDATE: This category didn’t get enough good submissions so the prize money for it has been incorporated into the Golden Jellybean award.

Golden Jellybean

For the best actionable idea of how communication technologies can be used to promote and enable human rights.

UPDATE: This category has been split into two sub-categories - the Freedom of Expression Award and the Grassroots Technology Award.

Access Facebook Award

For the best actionable idea of how to use the Facebook platform to deliver a human rights, human development or social good outcome. 

The finalists were selected by a panel of 13 judges including Alex Macgillivray, General Counsel at Twitter, John Lilly, Partner at Greylock and former Mozilla CEO, Elliot Schrage, VP of Communications at Facebook and many others listed here.  Projects were evaluated based on the likelihood that they could actually come to fruition and be scalable/sustainable as well as how many people would they affect? Projects were also evaluated based on how impactful they could be and how innovative the idea is. 

The list of finalists includes 22 interesting ideas. Some of the ideas are sort of “cloak-and-dagger” like Reticle, a disposable computer that cannot be traced. I am thinking “This message will self-destruct in 5-seconds”. The Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation is working on something called FlashProxy, which enables Facebook users to contribute their internet connection to support users trapped behind a firewall by creating a secure channel for them. The Electronic Frontier Foundation submitted browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox that force sites to use https when communicating with their visitors, a simple but effective way of protecting your personal information, especially when surfing on public networks. To me the most interesting projects are the ones in the Blackout Resilience category like Brian, Project Byzantium and RePress. Each of these projects is trying to build ways to circumvent blocking technology and enable users to connect and communicate with each other when governments try to shut down the Internet. 

Am looking forward to finding out who the winners are and, more importantly, to see how these technologies evolve in the near future.

The awards ceremony for the Innovation Prizes is TONIGHT, December 10, 2012 in New York City. You can follow along on twitter at #techprize12 or just follow AccessNow at @accessnow.