Ha-ha-yes, it's true, there's an IoT rectal thermometer, which is about as irrationally exuberant as you can get about a technology bubble, bu(t)t... (more…)
Happy trails, Alan Rickman.
Matt Locke from London's "The Story" conference writes, "We've just announced the final lineup for The Story 2016, including poet Musa Okwonga, CEO of Canongate Jamie Byng, games designer Hannah Nicklin, founder of Iron Circus Comics Spike Trotman, Wolfgang Wild (@retronaut) and Dallas Campbell, who will be talking about the history of the spacesuit." (more…)
I first heard about Scratch, when one of our attendees gave a brief show-and-tell on it at Boing Boing's Weekend of Wonder. It sounded pretty accessible. It came to mind again when recently, in an attempt to get my daughter to use the iPad for more than watching Bratayley, I decided to try and interest her in creating something. She loves art, but Minecraft was far too confusing for her and I was looking for another kid-friendly programming option. ScratchJr is a tablet based, even simpler version of Scratch, installing was as easy as any other app.
The Official ScratchJr Book does a great job, with friendly illustrations, of walking us through the basics. My daughter prefers the painting and drawing of characters, and backgrounds, to the organization of blocks, but the book did a great job of walking us through it all. Having gone through the book together, once, she can now refer to it one her own, if she runs into a problem. Generally, her problem is me grabbing the tablet and adding things.
I am not going to tell you we've made high art, but I think I could throw together a decent 1980's King's Quest parody.
WOULD YOU GIVE the story of Benghazi to the producer of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Someone did. The result is the new film directed by Michael Bay, 13 Hours, which makes Rambo look like War and Peace.
In 13 Hours, Bay displays a fetish for fake blood and heads that explode like watermelons when waves of bad guys are given the tap-tap of eternal sleep from the hot barrels of American assault rifles. Are the repetitive scenes of mowed-down attackers a job-creation program for the hundreds of dark-haired extras dressed as ready-for-paradise militiamen? Was Bay suffering from the delusion that every attacker killed on screen would translate into a vote for an Oscar? The true story of 13 Hours, in Bay-worthy broad strokes, is this: Six private military contractors who work for the CIA try to stave off attacks by Libyan militants on two U.S. compounds in Benghazi in 2012. Yet Bay’s movie feels like a hybrid war/zombie film, The Green Berets meets Night of the Living Dead.
I went into the screening with the distinct premonition that I would emerge in anger after seeing another maddeningly effective piece of Hollywood war propaganda. That’s how I felt last year after seeing American Sniper, a surprise blockbuster directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper in the role of Navy sniper Chris Kyle. In American Sniper, no one asked why Iraqis were shooting at Kyle and the rest of the U.S. military in the first place (hint: we invaded and occupied their country and tortured some of them at prisons like Abu Ghraib). Despite such errors of context, American Sniper was a formidable movie. It was really human and stuck with the audience. Much credit goes to Eastwood, a skilled director, and Cooper, a charismatic actor. His thespian counterpart in 13 Hours is John Krasinski, the nice guy from The Office. As it turns out, Krasinski wields a stapler and a pun far more convincingly than an M-4.
As far as propaganda goes, 13 Hours is mercifully thin. If we are lucky, it will fade away as quickly as the fake smoke from one of its many explosions. But the film is getting a big publicity push and might accidentally be taken seriously. Bay’s team is trying to work the behind-the-scenes alchemy that makes reviews by recovering war correspondents like me utterly irrelevant, not to mention film critics who don’t know an IED from LAX. 13 Hours is lining up endorsements from the taste-makers who really count, celebrities like Carmelo Anthony and Tiger Woods, who are among the sports figures who have attended advance screenings and tweeted about it. (Take that, Pauline Kael.)
13 Hours has a number of political problems that go beyond the one most people are likely to notice — the question of whether Hillary Clinton, secretary of state at the time, should be blamed for what happened in Benghazi. The film doesn’t actually mention Clinton by name. The short answer to the Clinton question is that everyone in the government should be blamed for what happened, including the Republicans who for years have bled the State Department of the funds it needs to provide proper security for its overseas facilities.
13 Hours, like American Sniper, is allergic to context. American Sniper presented Iraqis as sub-human, and that’s pretty much the same treatment Libyans get in 13 Hours, which includes the now-obligatory shot of Muslim fighters praying next to their AK-47s. Yet Bay’s film makes an additional error — it depicts private military contractors as heroes. In the very particular case of what happened in Benghazi in 2012 on September 11 and 12, that’s correct — the men who fought to save Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who died in the attacks along with a mid-level State Department employee, were brave. Two of the military contractors died in combat that night.
The deeper truth — which doesn’t diminish the real-life efforts of the men portrayed in the film — is that private military contractors have been a pox on America’s post-9/11 warfare. Particularly in Iraq, mercenaries hired by the U.S. government operated with near impunity, shooting and killing civilians, and engendered hatred on all sides. Even U.S. troops were fed up with them. A number of times, when I was embedded in Iraq, U.S. soldiers criticized the highly paid mercenaries as irresponsible troublemakers whose excesses further diminished the reputation of all U.S. forces. The most notorious example was the killings at Nisour Square in 2007, when gunmen working for Blackwater killed 17 civilians and injured 24.
Outsourcing warfare to mercenaries leads to all kinds of perverse outcomes. This was true in Benghazi too, though that story is not told in 13 Hours or the book it’s based on. For instance, one of the contractors killed in Libya, Glen Doherty, was working for the CIA on a short-term contract as a “direct independent contractor.” He had formed his own company for this purpose, called Icarus, Inc., and had been required by the CIA to buy an insurance policy. But according to a lawsuit filed by his mother and other relatives (settled last year in a confidential agreement), the policy, bought from an insurer recommended by the CIA, was nearly worthless and the insurer refused to pay death benefits because Doherty had no children or spouse. Even the contractors are cheated in the new American way of war.
13 Hours also fails to mention one of the strange reasons why the CIA contractors in Benghazi were called into combat. The defense of a State Department diplomatic compound in the city had been outsourced to a little-known military contractor, Blue Mountain Group, which had hired a small number of underpaid and ill-trained Libyans. When the attack began, the Libyan contractors mostly disappeared, along with the local militia that was supposed to provide another layer of protection. The bizarre upshot: A group of contractors hired by the CIA was called in to save the day partly because a group of contractors hired by the State Department had run away. It’s a bizarre twist. Maybe someone will make a movie about it one day.
The post “13 Hours” Splashes Blood Across the Screen and Misses Real Story of Benghazi appeared first on The Intercept.
TEN GUANTÁNAMO PRISONERS arrived in Oman today, a move that leaves fewer than 100 men held in the island prison.
The move means that 14 people have left the prison in 2016. On Monday, Mohamed al Rahman al Shumrani was sent to his native Saudi Arabia, almost exactly 14 years after he first arrived in Guantánamo. Last week, one Kuwaiti man was sent home and two Yemeni men were resettled in Ghana.
The names of the men transferred to Oman are Fahed Abdullah Ahmad Ghazi, Samir Naji al-Hasan Muqbil, Adham Mohamed Ali Awad, Mukhtar Yahya Naji al-Warafi, Abu Bakr Ibn Muhammad al-Ahdal, Muhammad Salih Husayn al-Shaykh, Muhammad Said Salim Bin Salman, Said Muhammad Salih Hatim, Umar Said Salim al-Dini, and Fahmi Abdallah Ahmad Ubadi al-Tulaqi. They are all Yemeni.
Of the 93 men left in the prison, 34 have been cleared for transfer, provided the Obama administration can find countries to take them in. Seven are currently facing charges before the military commission — including the five accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks — and three have been convicted and are serving or awaiting their sentences.
The rest of the men are in limbo waiting on Periodic Review Boards, an interagency process that the Obama administration designed to evaluate the status of Guantánamo’s “forever” prisoners. These were men that the government had originally designated too dangerous to release, but could not charge with a crime. The review boards are meant to determine whether the government believes they still pose a threat to the United States.
Many advocates and lawyers for the detainees believe that the late start and slow pace of these reviews has been a major hold-up in the process of moving detainees out of the prison.
“The way to close Guantánamo is to get people off the indefinite list,” said Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law. “The way to do this is to speed up the Periodic Review Boards. It’s right in front of your eyes.”
The reviews — or PRBs, in Gitmo lingo — were established in 2011. Among other things, the interagency boards consider whether the detainee has a family or other support system, or job possibilities, and the extent to which he has reformed or renounced any extremism — something akin to a parole hearing. Last fall, Abdul Rahman Ahmed, a Yemeni prisoner, submitted a letter to his review board explaining how in his 13 years at Guantánamo, he had learned English, was taking Spanish classes, and had completed courses for his GED; although, he noted, “We are not able to get a certificate.” His testimony included evaluations from his instructors and a painting of a vase of flowers. (He was approved for transfer in November, but remains in Guantánamo.) In the case of another detainee, Mustafa al-Aziz al-Shamiri, the PRB determined that he had been held for 13 years as a result of a mistaken identity. The government has not yet announced if he is approved for transfer.
The first PRB didn’t take place until 2013, two years after the process was established, and to date there have been 25 hearings. The advocacy group Human Rights First has calculated that if the reviews continue at this pace, the hearings would not be finished until late 2019.
“In order to close Gitmo the administration is going to have to drastically increase the pace of these reviews,” said Raha Wala, a senior counsel at Human Rights First.
Jonathan Hafetz, a law professor at Seton Hall University, represents Mohamedou Slahi, a prisoner since 2002 who became a bestselling author last year with his memoir, Guantánamo Diary. Slahi asked a federal court in Washington, D.C., to force the government to give him a PRB hearing. In December, the judge ruled that the court did not have that authority, but last week, Hafetz says Slahi was informed that he was now eligible for a review. A Defense Department official confirmed to Al Jazeera last week that all of the remaining detainees not facing military commissions charges would now be eligible. (The Pentagon did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.)
“Whether or not they really intend to give them a PRB promptly is another question,” said Hafetz.
Once prisoners are cleared for release, the problem remains of where to settle them. With yesterday’s transfers, Oman has taken a total of 20 former Guantánamo inmates, none of whom were citizens of Oman. Most of the remaining men are from Yemen, and the Obama administration does not intend to send them back to the chaos of civil war in that country. In the most recent defense-spending bill, as in years past, Congress barred the Obama administration from bringing detainees to the United States (as well as specifically preventing transfers to Yemen, Somalia, Syria, or Libya).
Recent reports have suggested that the Pentagon has intentionally stymied progress on Guantánamo (something Pentagon officials deny). Advocates see that foot-dragging at work behind the slow-moving review boards as well.
The Obama administration also still has to present a plan to Congress for how it intends to actually close the prison and deal with any remaining detainees who cannot be transferred to other countries.
“Time is running out, and Obama has made Gitmo central to his legacy,” said Hafetz. “And while Congress is to blame for much of the current situation, Obama will bear considerable responsibility as well. There’s a disconnect with what the president eloquently says in speeches and what actually goes on, on the ground, in the world of Guantánamo.”
The post Ten Detainees Transferred, Leaving Fewer Than 100 Prisoners at Guantánamo appeared first on The Intercept.
One of the longest-standing questions in the Bitcoin community has been where the technology will take off first. Some have said that Bitcoin makes much more sense in the developing world, while others claim developed nations like the United States have the sort of tech savvy and wealthy population necessary to give this new technology a boost.
While it’s unclear where Bitcoin will find its place in the daily lives of an entire nation first, Snapcard Co-Founder and CEO Michael Dunworth seems convinced that there is plenty of potential for the peer-to-peer digital cash system in Brazil. In the past, other South American countries have been touted as locations where Bitcoin is booming without much evidence , but Dunworth has been working on the ground to help power a revolution in money and payments in Brazil.
The Snapcard CEO recently visited the Central Bank of Brazil and gave a presentation on Bitcoin and blockchain technology to officials from various government departments.
Bitcoin Magazine spoke with the Dunworth at last month’s Blockchain Agenda Conference in San Diego , and he shared some of the key reasons why, in his mind, Bitcoin simply makes sense for Brazil.
Brazil’s Versions of Square and PayPal Will Integrate Bitcoin
Although there are a number of bitcoin payment processors that operate within the United States, the total number of merchants currently accepting bitcoin is still nothing more than a drop in the bucket.
According to Dunworth, this is also the case in Brazil right now, but that dynamic could change in the near future.
“There’s a lot of companies in Brazil – like the equivalent of PayPal, Square, and all that – that are all very close to moving on Bitcoin,” he said. “I think 2016 will be a humongous year for Brazil. These companies aren’t international brands, but for them, they have something like 35 million users.”
It’s unclear if bitcoin payments would be enabled by default on these payment systems, but it’s clear that accepting the digital currency becomes much easier for merchants when it’s at least included as a possible option. Once it becomes widely available to merchants, it then becomes easier for businesses to reap the benefits of the low-cost, irreversible payment system.
Credit Cards Come with High Fees and Delays for Merchants in Brazil
Dunworth also was able to explain the specific benefits of accepting bitcoin for merchants in Brazil. He started by comparing the costs of accepting card payments in the United States to how things work in the South American country:
“In the USA, you come along, you swipe your card, you buy a coffee at my Square terminal , and I get paid the next day or the day plus one. Within two days, the money is in my bank account. In Brazil, not only am I paying way higher fees – like between 4 to 7 percent for every swipe – but that money that you swipe is not in my account for 30 days.”
While there are still some theoretical benefits to accepting bitcoin as a merchant in the United States, it’s clear there is much more time and money to be saved by businesses operating in Brazil.
Dunworth went on to explain the clear contrast between card-based payments and bitcoin payments for merchants in Brazil:
“You can pay like a 10 percent fee to get [the money from a card payment] within 3 days or whatever, or you can do bitcoin, which we settle next day. And that’s where you start to see real incentives because the merchant realizes he can get the money tomorrow and he doesn’t have to give up 10 percent of it to get it sooner.”
Dunworth also noted that it would make sense for these businesses to offer incentives to customers who choose to pay with bitcoin. He noted a discount of 7 percent to 10 percent for customers paying with bitcoin could make sense in these situations.
Payment Delays Increase Operating Capital Requirements
When talking about the benefits of accepting bitcoin, most people mainly talk about the direct cost savings of cutting out the fees associated with card payments; however, Dunworth pointed out that there is much more to the story. Due to the long delay from the time a customer makes a card-based payment until the money is in the merchant’s bank account, a much larger amount of upfront capital is required for the business to operate.
“In Brazil, they’re sort of like, ‘Bitcoin is more friendly for me and my operation,’ Dunworth explained. “You know, if you have an operation selling T-shirts, and you sell $1,000 worth of T-shirts as a small business – if you sell that much per day, you now need a $30,000 to $40,000 operating capital because you have to get paid every month. That makes your business a damn expensive business to run, so that’s why you can see they are incentivizing people to give them something that works faster than a credit card, basically.”
Bitcoin has long been touted as a savior for lower-cost payments in the developing world, but the peer-to-peer payment system has yet to catch fire in any of these regions. Dunworth seems convinced that 2016 is the year it will happen in Brazil, and his case for bitcoin in the South American nation is quite clear.
The only question left is whether merchants will make the transition to this new digital payment technology and provide the sorts of incentives consumers will likely need to start using bitcoin in the new year.
The post Snapcard CEO: 2016 Will Be a Humongous Year for Bitcoin in Brazil appeared first on Bitcoin Magazine.
Howard Dean is the latest in a string of Hillary Clinton supporters to charge that Bernie Sanders is wrong to support a single-payer health care plan. The former chairman of the Democratic National Committee claimed on MSNBC last night that Sanders’ reform might result in “chaos” because “trying to implement it would in fact undo people’s health care.” Dean added, “That is something people should be concerned about.”
Dean, a longtime supporter of single-payer, seemed to be changing his tune, a point made by host Chris Hayes during the segment.
This evolution of Dean, known within many circles for his spirited critique of the Iraq War during the 2004 Democratic primary, comes as he has settled into a corporate lobbying career.
Dean, though he rarely discloses the title during his media appearances, now serves as senior advisor to the law firm Dentons, where he works with the firm’s Public Policy and Regulation practice, a euphemism for Dentons’ lobbying team. Dean is not a lawyer, but neither is Newt Gingrich, who is among the growing list of former government officials and politicians that work in the Public Policy and Regulation practice of Dentons.
The Dentons Public Policy and Regulation practice lobbies on behalf of a variety of corporate health care interests, including the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a powerful trade group for drugmakers like Pfizer and Merck.
In 2009, Dean praised single-payer while speaking on Democracy Now, calling the idea “by far the most economically efficient system.” That’s because, as Dean noted at the time, a Medicare-for-all style single-payer system would cut down on bureaucratic overhead and do a better job at controlling prices. An analysis by University of Massachusetts at Amherst professor Gerald Friedman found that the single-payer plan introduced into the last Congress, for instance, would save $592 billion, while expanding coverage to all uninsured Americans, regardless of ability to pay. Over 95 percent of households would see higher after-tax income because of the cost controls and elimination of insurance premiums.
Incumbent health care interests, particularly drug companies and insurers, have long viewed single-payer as a threat to their business model. Health insurance lobbyist strategy memos that were leaked from a source to veteran journalist Bill Moyers reveal a sophisticated effort to undermine public support for single-payer policies and to discredit Michael Moore’s Sicko, a movie that sharply criticizes the inequities and price-gouging of the American health care system. One slide discusses the need to use town halls and special forums to shape the Democratic primary debates in 2008 and peel away support for the reforms proposed in Sicko, while another calls for pundits to appear on television and denounce Moore as harmful to the Democratic Party.
After Dean began working in the lobbying industry, he gave a talk about how to navigate the post-Citizens United campaign finance world. “I’ve advised a lot of clients in the industries that I usually end up working with, which are mostly health care industries, not to give any money to either side, or if you do, give it to both sides because politicians really don’t know much about the issues,” Dean said. “But they remember the ads, and they remember who was on whose side and who wasn’t, and it makes a big difference.”
Dean’s advice for health care companies to give to both parties was given during a gathering convened by McKenna, Long & Aldridge, the law and lobbying firm that was one of many firms to merge last year with Dentons.
In 2015, Dentons also announced a merger with Dacheng, an influential Chinese law firm, forming the largest law firm in the world. The unusual arrangement provides Chinese state-owned firms that were clients of Dacheng access to the resources of Dentons, and American clients of Dentons help with understanding the Chinese system by tapping into Dacheng’s stable of attorneys.
Top photo: Howard Dean speaks at a health care reform rally on June 25, 2009, on Capitol Hill.
The post Howard Dean, Now Employed by Health Care Lobby Firm, Opposes Bernie Sanders on Single-Payer appeared first on The Intercept.