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Holiday Grab Bag

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My Christmas Stocking

Since I’ve been traveling over the Christmas holiday, I offer for today a selection of goodies Santa left in my Christmas stocking!

From Jay Rosen’s excellent PressThink blog, a first look at NewCo, the collaboration between Glenn Greenwald and Pierre Omidyar. Rosen is an advisor to what is to be called First Look Media, so is in an excellent position to share insights. The whole article is interesting; this is but a tidbit.

As we figure out what the pieces of the company will be, we are announcing them. Today’s news settles one of the questions I have been asked a lot: ‘Is NewCo going to be a business or a non-profit?’ Answer: both. The news and editorial operation will be a non-profit. The technology company will be a business run for profit. If the tech company is successful it can help fund the journalism mission, along with other possible sources of revenue.

The President’s Intelligence Review Task Force has a surprising revelation of other activities the NSA may have been engaged in. Techdirt says the Report Suggests NSA Engaged In Financial Manipulation, Changing Money In Bank Accounts.

Recommendation #31.2 reads:

Governments should not use their offensive cyber capabilities to change the amounts held in financial accounts or otherwise manipulate the financial system.

This strongly suggests that something very specific about financial manipulation surfaced during the task force’s review. Hmmmm. What sort of financial “manipulation” has the NSA been up to?

Furthermore, according to the Guardian, apparently the NSA also targeted charities, among them UNICEF:

The papers show GCHQ, in collaboration with America’s National Security Agency (NSA), was targeting organisations such as the United Nations development programme, the UN’s children’s charity Unicef and Médecins du Monde, a French organisation that provides doctors and medical volunteers to conflict zones.

President Obama finally has commuted Clarence Aaron’s sentence, which I posted about almost exactly a year ago. Dafna Linzer, formerly of ProPublica, discussed the commutation of Clarence Aaron’s 3 consecutive life sentences for a non-violent drug offense — Aaron did not possess or sell any drugs, only put friends who sold drugs in touch with other friends who were buyers. The pardon attorney misrepresented the situation and opposed the commutation, even though the prosecuting attorney and the sentencing judge recommended it.

Reuters reports on two studies that unlock the mystery of how HIV causes AIDS. The results open up some new treatment possibilities.

Instead of actively killing immune system cells known as CD4 T cells, much of the damage done by HIV occurs when the virus tries to invade these cells and fails, triggering an innate immune response that causes the cells to self-destruct in a fiery kind of cell suicide known as pyroptosis.

It appears that the NSA review panel the president tasked with making recommendations about the NSA surveillance “problem” will appear before the Senate judiciary committee on January 14.

The committee’s Democratic chairman, Patrick Leahy, announced on Sunday that a special session would be convened on 14 January to discuss the 46 recommendations made by the handpicked panel last week. The hearing, the judiciary committee’s first of the New Year, promises to put data surveillance at the top of the political agenda when Congress returns to work in 2014.

Here’s hoping the problems aren’t simply treated as a public relations issue and that some meaningful reforms are imposed and the NSA is reined in. I’m not hopeful.

Also in the stocking I find that a Stanford Researcher Proves NSA Can Probably Identify Individuals from Phone Records, even though we’re told that metadata won’t do that.

The National Security Agency likes to claim that intelligence officers are only collecting the phone records of millions of Americans, safely omitting their actual names from analysis. But a Stanford researcher, Jonathan Mayer, found that he and his co-author could easily match so-called ‘meta-data’ to individual names with little more than a Google search.

Finally, from the “Uh oh” department: McDonalds tells employees not to eat fast food because it’s bad for you!

“McResource Line” — McDonald’s’ employee-only resource and advice site — has been dispensing a hot mess of helpful tips in recent months: From advising workers to get a second job, to suggesting they sell their stuff for quick cash, to reminding them to tip their nannies and pool boys generously this holiday season. Its latest recommendation, however, may be its most useful yet: Lay off the fast food.

That’s all, folks, I’ve emptied the stocking. Did anything interesting show up in your stocking this year? Tell us about it!

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I retired from the University of Notre Dame in the Office of Information Technology in 2010. I'm divorced, with two grown children and 8 grandchildren. I'm a lifelong liberal and a "nonbeliever."