The recent political chatter about “Obamacare” before the Supreme Court of the United States got a great deal of media attention. President Obama added fuel to the fire when he declared, “Ultimately, I am confident the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”
For someone who was a law professor those words were absurd. Even if a bill passed unanimously in the house and senate, it could still be overturned – if the law was in violation of the Constitution.
Cutting taxes on those whose dreams have already come true does not create good jobs. Growing a healthy economy creates good jobs, and you cannot have a healthy economy in which a vast majority are losing ground or are barely holding on, or are just worrying about next month.
Biologists and naturalists conduct experiments in resource scarcity and competition using yeast, paramecium, flour beetles and other little animals. Behaviors change, relationships change, levels of ferocity change. A series of recently published surveys show that one third or less of Americans trust their fellow citizens in everyday interactions. As social trust deteriorates, so does a willingness to work for a common good. I am hopeful that Americans will handle things better than the flour beetle, but we need to hold it together and keep our perspective.
Federal, state and city lawmakers have the power to reduce the region’s traffic congestion while also promoting mass transit. If the past is prologue, they will decline to use it.
Congress, for instance, has until the end of this month to extend a law allowing mass transit users (e.g., bus, subway, commuter rail) to use up to $245 in pre-tax dollars toward their monthly commute. The federal government already allows $245 in pre-tax dollars to be used by drivers each month for their parking expenses, a figure which will increase to $250 on Jan. 1, 2014. The monthly pre-tax limit for transit users will fall to $130 on New Year’s Day should Congress fail to act on this matter by year-end 2013, something which happened in late 2011. D.C.’s inaction left transit users at a competitive disadvantage to drivers in 2012.
Written by Michael A. Miller, Millercolumn@optimum.net Saturday, 13 July 2013 00:00
Not a year goes by without some report recommending that Long Island build its future around “Tech” and software. The ongoing disclosures about our government’s surveillance methods may have dealt a body blow to that kind of future, and to large segments of the American technology sector.
Our European allies are going ape over revelations in the German and British media that our National Security Agency has been spying on European Union offices on both sides of the ocean and has been intercepting over half a billion telephone calls, emails and text messages a month in Germany alone. Among our closest allies, only Canada, Australia, Great Britain and New Zealand have been exempted from these spy attacks.
European diplomats and trade leaders have condemned these practices in language so strong it is reminiscent of what we used to say about the Soviet Union. Words like “Stasi” and “KGB” are found in many international news reports. These words are taken seriously in Europe, where millions have vivid memories of what it was all like. By the time you read this, it is very possible that upcoming discussions on a new trans-Atlantic free trade agreement, something our government and corporate community seem to want very much, will be cancelled.
It turns out that these prissy Europeans are seeing NSA surveillance less as “fighting terrorism” and more as corporate espionage, manic control and bullying.
Our daily lives are already being changed by an explosion in massive data mining, the ability of all kinds of businesses, governments and political campaigns to sift through huge amounts of data and identify “bread crumbs” to form profiles and make predictions about what you might do. Especially since the 2012 Presidential campaign and its implementation by Obama For America, “Big Data” is the hottest phrase in professional political circles and among state and local government “IT” (information technology) decision-makers. Everyone wants it, and now everyone can have it. The NSA gave it to them.
Building a complex, expensive Big Data system used to be the provenance of mega-corporations. In 2011, the NSA turned its Accumulo data-mining software code over to the Apache Software Foundation, the not-for-profit coalition that serves as an incubator and clearinghouse for free, “open source” software. They released Apache Accumulo in March 2012. Now Big Data is for everyone, and it’s all based on a single software standard. Compatible. Interchangeable. It’s brilliant, really.
Apache is generally seen as one of the Good Guys of the software industry, and Big Data can have incredibly useful application to government. Check out New York City’s “Checkbook NYC 2.0” site, which presents detailed information on revenues, spending, contracts and payroll. The city posted the source code so civic groups, newspapers and other cities can apply it and build on it themselves. IBM is pushing its Big Data analytics package to local governments to help reduce overpayments and recover funds.
Big data is being widely used to target personalized online advertising. Banks are using neighborhood demographics and social media connections to predict credit worthiness. Health insurers are using purchase history to predict future health problems. Last year, there was controversy over reports that a major retailer could tell a woman was pregnant based on her purchases and demographic history.
And now, in their eagerness to “keep us safe,” our leaders have probably crippled sales of American software and online services to corporations and governments in other countries, a huge revenue source. The NSA and FBI have direct access, voluntarily or not, to the online servers of famous software giants, social networking sites and international online retailers.
So much technology now talks to the online “cloud.” To millions of consumers and businesses, American-powered clouds seem vulnerable.