Secretaries of education, transportation and defense appear on morning talk shows in push for compromise before 1 March
The Obama administration turned up the heat on the Republicans on Sunday, sending out a slew of cabinet secretaries to issue dire warnings about the impact of $85bn of government cuts should sequestration be allowed to strike.
With five days to go before the budget cuts automatically begin on 1 March, and with still no sign of a compromise deal taking shape, the Sunday political talk shows hummed with recriminations between the two main parties over the pending sequestration. The sharpest words from the administration came from Arne Duncan, the education secretary, who said that even before the knife fell, teachers were already losing their jobs.
“There are literally teachers now who are getting pink slips, who are getting notices that they can’t come back this fall,” Duncan said on CBS’s Face the Nation. He said up to 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs, adding: “We don’t have any ability with dumb cuts like this to figure out what the right thing is to do.”
Further doom came from the transportation secretary Ray LaHood who has been highly visible in the past few days, warning about the impact of sequestration on civilian travel. “There has to be some kind of furlough of air traffic controllers, and that then will also begin to curtail or eliminate the opportunity for them to guide planes in and out of airports,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press, referring to the $600m cuts destined for the Federal Aviation Administration.
Similar forebodings were delivered by Leon Panetta, the outgoing defense secretary. He said that the “vast majority” of civilian employees of the Pentagon would be forced to give up one day of work a week starting in late April.
The orchestrated round of warnings from the Obama administration did not impress a coterie of senior Republicans who were similarly paraded on the talk shows, blaming the White House for having brought the country to the brink of yet another “manufactured crisis”. The governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, ridiculed the Democrats on Meet the Press, saying “they’ve rolled out this great political theater about how cutting less than three per cent of the federal budget is going to cause all these awful consequences.”
He added a message to Obama: “Stop sending out your cabinet secretaries to scare the American people.”
LaHood, speaking on behalf of the White House, countered that “we are not making this up in order to put pain on the American people”.
The paradox about the current billowing storm over the sequestration is that these were cuts that were never supposed to happen. They were devised as a sort of sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of Congress members in 2011 to encourage them to reach a compromise deal on reducing the federal deficit; in the event that they fail despite the threat to reach accord, the cuts will automatically scheduled to begin on Friday.
With Congress getting back to business on Monday after a week’s recess, the search for a way out of the impasse is likely to gather pace. Obama was set to meet governors from across the nation on Sunday night which will be an important moment as the individual states are certain to be heavily hit should the cuts go ahead.
Administration figures are stressing that though the deadline is close, there is still time for serious talks on the plan Obama has presented to avoid sequestration. But to get to that point, both main parties will have to find a way out of the current stalemate in which they appear to be more focused on apportioning blame than on finding solutions.
As far as gaining mindshare ahead of launch for next generation consoles goes, blocking used games seems to be one of the bigger issues. The Xbox 720 is reportedly deploying one such solution and the Wii U does no such thing for the moment. But as far as the newly unveiled PS4, uncertainty still looms, mostly due to Sony’s evasive responses when faced with the question from press, as well as a fairly vague statement on the matter.
Given the likelihood of Facebook buying Microsoft’s Atlas platform, lots of speculation has swirled around what the social network company would want to do with the ad server. The popular answer: Facebook is looking to take Atlas’ capabilities at operating across the Web, combine them with Facebook social graph data, create a new ad network and go after the third-party ad serving business. In other words, the argument goes, Facebook is looking to go head to head against Google/DoubleClick.
That might be part of the play here. But I hardly think that’s the whole answer.
To my mind, an Atlas play would really be about attribution.
After all, it is attribution that’s the biggest driver of ad dollars online since day one. Google is a perfect example here: It’s incredibly easy to draw a straight line from the keyword you advertise on, to the text you deliver to a searcher, to the landing page you send the searcher to — and finally to the sale (or failure to make a sale). It’s that ease of attribution that made Google into the most successful direct marketing property in history.
As of now, Facebook isn’t a serious contender for those direct marketing dollars. Just think about how often you’ve heard or read the question, “Do Facebook ads work?” (most common answer: Maybe). If Facebook wants to compete at Google levels for ad dollars, it needs to develop a way to let advertisers and agencies draw that direct line between Facebook ads and ROI.
That’s especially true since digital media has made the entire marketing world far more accountability-focused — to the point that some of the world’s largest agencies are shifting to pay-per-performance models. If accountability were a huge leg up for helping Google in the dot-com era, it’s likely a make or break for Facebook today.
Which brings us to the speculation about Atlas. The ad network theory makes sense because Atlas can 1) do complicated computations around which ads are served when, and 2) draw complex pictures around how users engage across different types of media — including interactions between Facebook and other media properties. Meanwhile, Facebook’s privacy changes from last May allow the site to leverage user data to serve ads to users while they’re not on Facebook.
If you put those points together, it does seem likely that an ad network may well be in the works, and Atlas may become a key piece of technology behind it. But if that’s the only piece of thinking going on here, then Facebook is essentially looking to solve the revenue hurdles of its core business by using that core business to support a side project. That’s an awfully convoluted and less strategic path to growth.
It seems a lot more likely that Facebook is less interested in using Atlas to port data out onto the Web, than it is in using Atlas to bring all those off-Facebook conversions back into the world of Facebook itself. In other words, Facebook wouldn’t look to Atlas as the backbone of a new ad network; Facebook would look to Atlas as the infrastructure for tools that show how users engage with Facebook ads, and where Facebook fits in the conversion path. Those are the tools that Facebook needs to prove that yes, Facebook ads do work. And no matter how lucrative an ad serving business or ad network would be, building those tools is infinitely more valuable.
Of course, beating Google at the ad network game may be one of Facebook’s goals (and it’s certainly something Sheryl Sandberg has the chops for). But if Facebook isn’t thinking first and foremost about its attribution problem, then it’ll never beat Google for ad dollars — ad network or no. Zuckerberg, Sandberg and company are smart enough to realize this. And if they are looking to buy Atlas, attribution is the reason.
Bill Wise is CEO of Mediaocean, a marketing technology company that powers $130B in media spending globally. Follow him at @billwise.
Barry Steenkamp said he may one day be able to forgive Oscar Pistorius, but only if he his telling truth about what happened
The father of Oscar Pistorius’ dead girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp says the athlete will have to “live with his conscience” if he is lying about how he killed her.
But Barry Steenkamp said he may be able to forgive Pistorius one day, if the London Olympic and Paralympic runner is telling the truth about shooting dead 29-year-old model Reeva after mistaking her for an intruder.
“If it didn’t happen the way he says it did, he must suffer and he will suffer,” Steenkamp told the South African Beeld newspaper. “It does not matter how much he has and how good his legal team is, he will have to live with his conscience. But if he speaks the truth, I can perhaps some day forgive him.”
On Friday, Pistorius was freed on bail but still faces charges of premeditated murder.
June Steenkamp, Reeva’s mother, told Beeld that she received a bouquet of flowers from the Pistorius family. “But what does it mean?” she said. “Nothing.”
She also said the Pistorius family must be “devastated” and had done nothing wrong. “They are not to blame,” she said.
The paper reported that she wept as she described how she had hoped one day to play with her daughter’s children. “Now everything is taken away from her in such a violent way. It’s so violent. We just want to know the truth”, she said.
The Steenkamp family has previously made no comment on the case other than to demand that Pistorius provide “answers” about their daughter’s death.
Pistorius, 26, was granted bail on Friday and his case postponed until 4 June. He spent Saturday at his uncle’s home in an affluent suburb of Pretoria. “We are extremely thankful that Oscar is now home,” his uncle, Arnold Pistorius, said in a statement, “What happened has changed our lives irrevocably.”
His lawyer Kenny Oldwage said the athlete “will be in a residence we’ve provided in Pretoria”. His coach, Ampie Louw, was quoted as saying he is considering putting Pistorius back in training “to get his mind clear”.
Pistorius was ordered to hand over firearms and passports, avoid his home and all witnesses in the case, report to a police station twice a week, and not to drink alcohol. He is not permitted to enter any international airport departure hall.
The court’s decision to grant bail, set at 1m rand ( 73,000), came after four days of twists and turns in a case that has gripped the world. Pistorius admitted shooting dead his girlfriend at his luxury home near Pretoria on 14 February, but claimed he thought she was a burglar. The prosecution insist it was premediatated murder while the defence argues culpable homicide.
Gulf widens between those who think Shahbag Square rallies are righting historical wrong and those who see them as anti-Islam
Najmul Hossain had never been to a protest before. But for the past fortnight, the 45-year-old Bangladeshi banker has regularly made the short journey to Shahbag Square, a broad, tree-lined thoroughfare in the heart of Dhaka, the capital, to call for the hangings of Islamist politicians accused of war crimes during the country’s 1971 war of independence.
On Saturday, Hossain took his six-year-old son with him to the protest, holding a banner with the message, “Razakars [Islamist collaborators] must be hanged”. The child carried a toy gun. “My uncle was killed in 1971 by the Pakistan army,” Hossain said. “I cannot forgive those who killed and stood with the killers.”
On the other side of town, Shamsuz Zaman, a 58-year-old timber trader, is equally fired up but for different reasons when discussing Shahbag. “War crimes are just an excuse,” he said. “Bangladesh has so many problems. The people who are leading these mobs are atheists who insult Islam, God and the prophet.” The gulf between those who think the Shahbag protests - the largest in two decades, that some are calling the Bangladesh spring - is a movement for righting a historical wrong and those who consider it to be a veiled, government-sponsored attempt to curb the influence of Islam has never been wider.
At least five people have been killed since Friday in countrywide violence, including two opposition activists who were shot dead by police on Saturday morning, local police officials confirmed. The violence began when conservative Islamists clashed with police after Friday prayers, protesting against what they said were blasphemous online posts by bloggers at the forefront of the Shahbag protests.
An alliance of Islamist parties called for a general strike on Sunday to protest at what they see as the use of excessive force against opposition activists. The police said they were trying to maintain law and order.
Much of the mistrust is rooted in Bangladesh’s tumultuous past. Bangladesh declared independence from Pakistan in 1971. The Pakistani army fought and lost a brutal nine-month war with Bengali fighters and Indian forces that had intervened. Hundreds of thousands of civilians died, many of them at the hands of Islamist militia groups who wanted the country to remain part of Pakistan.
In 2010, Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister, and daughter of wartime political leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, set up a war crimes tribunal to investigate atrocities committed during the 1971 conflict - a move she said would bring closure for victims and families and heal the rifts of war.
The leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Khaleda Zia, the widow of the independence war’s best-known military commander, has accused Hasina of politicising the tribunal and conveniently using it to hound her political enemies. All of the 10 people indicted for war crimes by the tribunal are opposition politicians, eight of them from the Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamist party and an ally of Zia’s BNP.
Despite criticism from human rights groups about politicisation and procedural flaws, the war crimes tribunal has remained broadly popular. Last month the tribunal sentenced a former member of the Jamaat-e-Islami to death for his role in the 1971 war. On 5 February, a verdict of life imprisonment was delivered against Abdul Quader Molla, a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, sparking the Shahbag protests. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have converged on Shahbag, the hub of protests, adamant that all of the men on trial for war crimes must receive the death penalty.
This week President Zillur Rahman signed into law an amendment to the statute that governs two functioning war crimes tribunals, giving prosecutors the power to seek stiffer sentences on appeal, a key demand of the protesters. The new law also gives the government the power to charge entire organisations with war crimes, another Shahbag demand.
The protesters, however, have ratcheted up the pressure, saying they will remain camped out in Shahbag until all of the accused currently before the war crimes tribunal are given the death sentence. They have pushed a broader set of demands, including banning the Jamaat-e-Islami and confiscating businesses linked to Islamist groups.
“We are protesting 40 years of injustice,” said Lucky Akter, 23, a student and member of a leftwing political party who has become one of the faces of the protest with her fiery slogans. “We want those who collaborated with the Pakistan army hanged and their finances cut off.”
Analysts say the broader demands from the Shahbag gathering show how the rifts of the past continue to play a major role in Bangladesh’s present. “There is an ideological basis to protests,” said Muhammad Musa, a political commentator and former newspaper editor. “There is the widespread perception that the Jamaat-e-Islami supported Pakistan during the war and should answer for this.”
On Saturday a crowd in the thousands gathered in Shahbag, joining a hardcore group of activists, waving flags and chanting slogans such as, “Hang, hang, hang them all!” and, “The weapons of ‘71 must fire again!”
The Jamaat-e-Islami, whose activists have waged violent street agitations against the tribunal, says it is being scapegoated. Shafiqul Islam Masud, a party leader, said many people were blurring the difference between a political position and war crimes. “There are only about 50 people active in the party now who took any kind of a political position 42 years ago,” he said. “It’s possible some of them did not want to secede from Pakistan, but that’s a far cry from war crimes. The party accepted the sovereignty of Bangladesh and is a registered political party, represented in parliament.”
Sam Zarifi, the Asia director for the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), a Geneva-based legal advocacy, said a fair trial process was necessary to heal the wounds of the war. “It is very important that victims of 1971 get justice,” he said. “But justice must be ensured through a fair and transparent trial process. Unfortunately, if judges are intimidated by mass protests into handing out death sentences, that’s not justice and may unleash yet another cycle of violence.”
Such words of caution are dismissed by Shahbag protesters as intellectual posturing. The crimes of 1971, which have been thrust into the spotlight by the tribunals, have dominated Bangladeshi newspapers, airwaves and websites, uniting the youth of Dhaka in an unprecedented manner.
“The people have spoken,” said Akter. “Now it is up to the courts and the politicians to implement.”
Analysts say the protests have worked to the government’s advantage and distracted attention from economic and governance issues the opposition had been agitating about. Last year, Hasina scrapped a constitutional provision under which a non-partisan caretaker government oversees elections, leading to the opposition threatening a boycott of parliamentary elections due in early 2014.
“Had it not been for the protests, now we would all be focusing on next year’s elections and looking at the government’s record in office and the opposition’s pledges,” said Zafar Sobhan, editor of the Dhaka Tribune, an English daily. “Now, all bets are off and elections seem a distant concern. It is hard to see how things will revert to politics as usual after this.”
Asif Mohiuddin, a co-ordinator of the bloggers’ network that called for the Shahbag protests, is keen to point out the group’s struggle did not start with Shahbag. “We have been waging war on religious fundamentalists on the blogs for years,” he said. “Shahbag has been successful because people are so outraged by the war crimes.”
Yet some analysts say the narrative of a secular revolution leading the country towards a democratic future may be simplistic. The protests have polarised the country and led to tensions between those who identify themselves as progressive.
“Many are worried about the Shahbag protest’s aggressive tone and narrow focus on the death penalty,” said one of the editors of alalodulal.org, an English language blog. “I wish the unique energy of Shahbag could be channelled into the energy and desire to do thorough research, digging out solid evidence that can result in fair trials that do not require government contortions.”
As this year’s Mobile World Congress approaches, Asus has already snagged the prize for Weirdest Teaser. Following up on Wednesday’s initial video, in which an unidentified flying objects “docks” with Barcelona’s famous Sagrada Fam lia church, the company’s latest offering involves a statue of Christopher Columbus coming to life and taking a phone call.
A joke about phone-tablet hybrids — the narrator decribes Columbus as “the guy with the tablet in his hand” — the video seems to promise something new in the company’s Padfone line, with the description highlighting an event on February 25th. We can only speculate which Barcelona landmark Asus will take over next, though a video incorporating the city’s 38-story Torre Agbar…
The Classics are must-see, must-read, must-play works revered by The Verge staff. They offer glimpses of the future, glimpses of humanity, and a glimpse of our very souls. You should check them out.
It’s the future, but nobody actually knows what year it is. Humans are mass-cloned and sold as fast food (or occasionally as fresh-faced politicians), extraterrestrial life has become a fashion statement, and universal matter replicators not only exist, they can get hooked on their own manufactured drugs. Income inequality and health problems are covered over by slick public relations and short attention spans. Climate change has led to the rise of city-destroying superstorms. And telling the truth at the right time can change the world….
ManageEngine has launched the ServiceDesk Plus iPhone app that incorporates voice-recognition technology for IT professionals so they can make commands, dictate notes and do any number of other tasks that come with managing a help desk.
The app uses Nuance Nina, a virtual assistant, to dictate, edit, reply, assign/reassign and close tickets. The app also has touch-screen capabilities to:
The app is designed for IT professionals who spend a good part of their time on their feet, fixing problems for people around the office. But while away from their desks, they still have to do everything through the help desk, the anchor of any enterprise shop. The goal is to help IT be more productive. Instead of stopping to use the laptop or peck away on an iPhone, a technician can instead use their voice to do the work that needs to get done.
According to Opus Research, Nuance has invested heavily in voice-recognition technology, making customer service apps like ServicePlus more viable.
Dan Miller of Opus writes:
At Nuance’s Customer Experience Summit held in Orlando in early December, Doug Sharp, VP of Enterprise Engineering, noted that the company has 135 engineers “dedicated to some aspect of language understanding.” His point is that the statistical language models (SLMs) that are necessary for accurate automated speech recognition are only the beginning of what comprises a natural, multi-modal, mixed initiative user interface. Much of the heavy lifting now is taking place along a continuum that spans machine learning, data driven discovery in new or evolving domains and mining the intranet and social networks to bring continuous improvement an engine’s ability to understand meaning and provide new kinds of assistance.
My colleagues have their doubts, pointing to the issues with using simple voice-recognition to issue commands for driving places as an example:
@alexwilliams Voice recognition tech can barely understand I want to drive to my own home
— Brian McClain (@BrianMMcClain) February 21, 2013
But with the learning capabilities that come with Nuance, I am more confident that this ManageEngine app will be usable. It is designed for a specific task, not the open-ended commands that come with consumer-style applications.
Execution Labs, a Montreal-based gaming incubator, is teaming up with mobile game advertising and monetization startup Chartboost to create a new matchmaking program that will help indie game developers promote each others’ work.
It would allow smaller developers to tap into cross-promotion, a strategy that has helped bigger game developers hold on to their millions of players as they get shuttled from one game title to the next. Big game developers like Zynga and Rovio routinely promote their new games in old titles. That makes it much cheaper for them to get millions of users for a new title.
At the same time, it’s become harder than ever for brand-new game developers to break in. Yesterday, a Distimo report showed that just 2 percent of the top 250 publishers in the iPhone App Store were “newcomers.” Android is not much better with just 3 percent qualifying as “newcomers” in the Android app store, Google Play.
It’s a classic shift you see on software platforms, as early movers take advantage of lower marketing costs to gain reach and crowd out latecomers.
Execution Labs is calling this matchmaking service the “Lab Partners” program. It will help indie mobile game developers find similar developers with whom they can set up advertising trades. They’ll be able to search for other games by platform and genre to see potential partners. So if a player enters one developer’s game, they’ll see ads for another studio’s similar titles.
The service is free and is powered by Chartboost’s Direct Deals platform. Chartboost was founded by some former Tapulous employees and started off by facilitating direct advertising trades between mid- and large-size mobile developers.
Over time, that grew into a gaming-centric mobile advertising network that now involves about 12,000 titles. The company’s revenues grew fast enough that the startup attracted a $19 million round led by Sequoia Capital earlier this year.
Now Chartboost is envisioning itself as a business engine for games. While the company hasn’t shared its product roadmap for the coming year, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine it building out tools for retention and monetization later.
As for Execution Labs, it’s a Montreal-based incubator backed by BDC Venture Capital, Real Ventures and White Star Capital.